In this time of division and conflict, can we all agree that Game Night is a damn funny movie?
The film tells the story of three couples who regularly get together for, as the title suggests, a game night. Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and Sharon (Sharon Horgan) are quirky and a little bit daffy. Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and his wife, Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) are generally dependable and Michelle has a really interesting story about the time that she met a man who may have been Denzel Washington but probably wasn’t. Meanwhile, Annie (Rachel McAdams) and Max (Jason Bateman) are an ultracompetitive married couple, frustrated in their attempts to conceive a child but always confident in their ability to win any game that they play. At one time, Gary (Jesse Plemons) and his wife used to be a part of the group but, after they got divorced, Max and Annie stopped inviting him. You really can’t blame them. Gary’s seriously creepy.
And then there’s Brooks Davis (Kyle Chandler).
Brooks is Max’s brother and, at first glance, he would appear to be everything that Max isn’t. Brooks appears to have a lot of money. He claims to have a successful career, even if no one’s quite sure what he does for a living. He drives a nice car. When he comes to town to visit his brother, he rents out a mansion. Brooks is the type of older sibling who always has an embarrassing story or two to share about his younger brother. In fact, Max feels so inadequate when compared to Brooks that it’s even interfering with Max and Annie’s efforts to have a child. When Brooks invites everyone to come to his house for a very special game night, Annie and Max are determined to beat Brooks at whatever game he’s planning on having them play.
It turns out that Brooks has hired a company to put on an interactive role-playing game. While listening to a fake FBI agent (Geoffrey Wright) explain the background of the mystery that they’re about to solve, the couples are shocked when several masked men burst into the house. Everyone’s impressed as the men beat the fake FBI agent unconscious. When the men start beating up Brooks, everyone praises Brooks for the realism of his game. After Brooks is dragged out of the house, the couples set out to solve the mystery of who is behind this kidnapping. As for the fake FBI agent, he lies on the floor motionless. Even when Ryan kicks his body, the agent doesn’t move. Everyone agrees that the agent is a really good and committed actor.
Of course, the joke is that Brooks really has been kidnapped but nobody realizes it. It’s a good joke but, to the film’s credit, it’s not the only joke. In fact, Game Night actually get funnier after everyone eventually realizes that they’re no longer playing a game. Ever after they realize that Brooks actually has been kidnapped, Annie and Max are so competitive that they still keep trying to outdo everyone else.
Annie and Max also discover that they have no choice but to involve their creepy neighbor and former friend, Gary. Jesse Plemons doesn’t have a lot of screentime but he gives a performance that is so exquisitely strange and awkward that he ends up stealing the entire movie. Watching Plemons, you both feel sorry for Gary and understand why no one wants to play with him. His desperation to be apart of the group is both exasperating and somewhat touching.
In fact, the entire cast does a good job, bringing their often clueless characters to life. Max and Annie are a likable couple and Bateman and McAdams have a natural chemistry that makes them a lot of fun to watch. There’s a great scene where Max and Annie, still thinking that they’re just playing a game, subdue a group of criminals in a bar. Max and Annie’s clueless joy is intoxicating. They’re having fun playing at being tough and we’re having fun watching them. Of course, it eventually turns out that the gun that Annie thought was a toy is real and loaded and … well, things get a little bit messy. While the scene where Annie and Max try to figure out how to dig a bullet out of a man’s arm may have made me cringe a little, it also made me laugh. That’s a credit to both Bateman and McAdams, who made the scene both real and funny at the same time.
Anyway, I really enjoyed Game Night. Clocking in at 100 minutes, it’s a briskly paced and good-natured comedy that never makes the mistake of lingering for too long over its own cleverness. Director Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley both redeem themselves for 2015’s Vacation. If, earlier this year, you missed this one when it was in theaters, see it now and have a good time.