2018 | rated R | starring Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman, Kyle Chandler, Lamorne Morris, Jesse Plemons | directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein | 1hr 40 mins |
Studio Pitch: A Three Amigos/Tropic Thunder approach to a friend group game night where the murder mystery game has turned real unbeknownst to the contestants.
I feel like a snob and a stick in the mud every time a new big, broad studio comedy comes out and bores me to death. I can’t think of a single live-action comedy that came out in the entire year of 2017 that I really enjoyed – and certainly nothing I enjoyed as thoroughly as Game Night. A studio ensemble comedy with a story that is simple in premise and tightly constructed in execution, Game Night is something of a minor miracle subverting the broader appeal mandate these movies usually take. An even more minor miracle when you consider it’s John Frances Daly (Freaks and Geeks alum) and Jonathan Goldstein’s follow up to last year’s painfully unfunny Vacation remake. Where there everything was forced and big, Game Night seems like an effortless lightening strike for an entire cast and crew at the top of their game. It is so well assembled that it immediately ranks in the top class with 21 Jump Street, Horrible Bosses and The Hangover as one of the best studio comedies of recent years. It is that good.
The plot, as it unfolds, involves Bateman and McAdams as Max and Annie, a hyper-competitive married couple whose regular Friday night game night with their friends takes a turn when his over-achieving favorite-son brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) blows into town and proposes a murder mystery theater game; so when a group of masked thugs break in, attack Brooks and drag him out the front door screaming the oblivious couples follow the game clues and cheat to get him back. Clues that send them into shady bars, breaking into mansions and racing through the streets as the situation gets increasingly crazy and desperate.
It isn’t revolutionary, in fact if openly takes from other films and name checks those films while it’s doing the taking (the far inferior Taken 3 oddly figures into the finale), but inside that frame it makes a thousand different changes and a thousand different trope subversions. Just about everything works. The ensemble cast just crackles – Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams and Lamorne Morris (New Girl) and Kylie Bunbury (Under the Dome) have great chemistry in their couples. Like Hangover and Jump Street, Game Night also has a rich variety in it’s jokes. Instead of the gross-out or sex comedy that beats it’s one-notes dead, this film is full of content, moving from slapstick to verbal banter to sex jokes to movie references to meta jokes about it’s own structure.
The thing that really impresses, the thing that sends this movie beyond expectations is that it is also just as skilled in the action and suspense moments. When the games start to turn grimmer and bloodier, it is also genuinely exciting. Far more than it needed to be. There is a single-take chase scene in the middle of this movie centered around a Faberge egg that is better than any action scene in Black Panther.
Daley and Goldstein shows a keen ability to know exactly where they’ve lead the audience, teeing up something we’ve seen in other movies and doubling-back in the other direction. The movie keeps one step ahead of us, with a dizzying barrage of twists and turns to the reality of the games. The script is so clever and precise that while it’s twists pile on top of each other the movie never gets away from it’s directors and doesn’t delivers a twist that isn’t a meaningful turn of the screw. I’ve thought about the story for days and it still seems to be pretty much water tight. The structure moves in a circle of tight set-ups and payoffs with everyone given some business and the movie tracking all of them to a satisfying degree.
All of this gins up into a frothy, thrilling cocktail. Bateman continues to do his dry thing and I continue to laugh at it, but it’s Rachel McAdams that comes off a real comic revelation. Why McAdams isn’t in more movies is a newly energized mystery to me. Jesse Plemons has some of the biggest scene stealing moments, doing what seems like a Michael Shannon impression.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve been this high on a studio comedy. Game Night is shockingly good. It’s funny, which is all we could hope for but then it adds even more instruments to the concert, sounds that blend together wonderfully. It’s smart, irreverent, character focused, exciting, unpredictable and full of cameos. Studio comedies are rarely this well written.