By Adam Pilskog
The timing seems just right for a smart comedy to hit theaters. I was just thinking that it’s been a while since I’ve had a good laugh in the theater. Fortunately, there is more depth and story to this one than you might expect, and notably strong characters (a fantastic cast as well).
Warner Bros. has the action-comedy market cornered ever since “Horrible Bosses” in 2011. “We’re the Millers” (2013) and “Central Intelligence” (2016) brought in well over $100 million each, and I would expect that “Game Night” will follow suit (unless everyone just keeps going to “Black Panther”).
Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are an uber-competitive couple bonded through their love of all types of games. The opening montage shows their meet-cute, and the evolution of their love story from trivia night to a charades proposal and a Dance-Dance-Revolution wedding reception. It’s a bit much, but we get the point, and they are actually a pretty cute couple. They host weekly game nights, and seem to have a pretty good life (without the depth of knowing their careers) when things get a bit out of control. Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town and introduces them to a whole new game. From there, it’s a mix of mystery and action, but always grounded with sharp comedy.
John Francis Daley (“Freaks and Geeks,” “Horrible Bosses”) is one of the creative minds behind the film, and besides being a nice guy in real life (no big deal, I met him once), he once again shows that he is in fact one of the stronger writers in the action-comedy genre. It doesn’t hurt that he has Jason Bateman to work with either. Directing “Game Night” isn’t a challenge, but he does manage to keep the audience’s attention by moving the story along at a nice pace.
Bateman and Chandler are fantastic as the brothers, but I tend to enjoy most anything they do. “Arrested Development” and “Friday Night Lights” are both up there in terms of all-time favorite shows, and they both just seem so natural and cool on screen; it is very entertaining. McAdams has been out of the spotlight since, well, “Spotlight,” but returns light-hearted and with remarkably strong chemistry with Bateman.
Jesse Plemons completely steals the show as Gary, the no-nonsense police officer neighbor who so desperately wants to be a part of game night. His lines are delivered with an almost uncomfortable precision, and his posturing and visage is an uneasy blend of aggression and rigidity, but that makes it all the more hilarious. His Bichon Frise accessory, Bastian, adds to the absurdity of his character, but surprisingly he serves as an anchor for the film.
Michael C. Hall makes a rare surprise cinematic appearance as well, which is a nice touch since his “Dexter” ship sailed off in lackluster fashion. Jeffrey Wright (one of my all-time favorites; get this guy some leading roles, please!) leaves his mark on the film in a brief but intentionally exaggerated role, and it’s fantastic as well.
There is a lot to like about this film. Maybe it’s the ripe timing of its release, and maybe it’s the strong cast. The story itself isn’t anything we haven’t seen before; unsuspecting participants in a real kidnapping mystery, thinking it’s a game, and then finding themselves entangled in the subsequent chain of events. But that’s not the point. The point is pure fun. Bateman has proven that he’s got dramatic acting chops, but comedy is his wheelhouse, and I for one will continue seeing his work. Skip game night, and go see “Game Night.”