Remember the rumor that circulated middle school campuses nationwide that Marilyn Manson surgically removed his own ribs to fellate himself? I certainly do. Remember when Ed Norton was The Hulk? What about “Fight Club”? “Eyes Wide Shut”? Mark Perez, the writer behind “Game Night,” does, and he wants to make sure you do too.
“Game Night” is directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the duo whose shared works include their co-directorial debut, “Vacation,” and the screenplays for “Spider Man: Homecoming” and “Horrible Bosses,” among others. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star as Max and Annie, a husband and wife duo whose personalities are equally competitive, driven to succeed at any and all games they participate in be it charades, DDR or murder-mystery. Every weekend, the couple hosts game night at their house, inviting friends over to partake in the festivities. When Max’s older brother, the more attractive and more successful Brooks (Kyle Chandler), is in town for the weekend, the stakes are raised as Max sets his eyes on finally beating his jerk of a brother. But when Max, Annie and their friends congregate at Brooks’ lavish home and realize the game they’re playing isn’t Scrabble or Life, but instead an interactive murder-mystery that will last them all night, they split off in hopes to beat the game and win the grand prize — Brooks’ ‘76 Corvette Stingray. Only the game is a bit too real to be a game.
The trailer for “Game Night” is underwhelming to say the least. If you’ve seen any comedy film this past decade, you must have fallen victim to the trap of watching a movie just because the jokes in the trailer were great, only to find out they’re the only funny moments in the entire movie. Trusting trailers is a zero-sum game nowadays. Thankfully, “Game Night” is funny. And the humor in this film isn’t in the same vein of hackneyed ad-libs that permeate the market of comedy films nowadays; for all the good Judd Apatow has brought to mainstream comedy with works like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Bridesmaids,” a malignancy has affected most of the Hollywood schlock pile of comedies in the form of painfully unfunny and overstayed improvisation. “Game Night” certainly beats the dead horse silly sometimes, but there’s a peppering of lighter jokes here and there that draw less attention to themselves than the grander setups and payoffs, ultimately helping the film in terms of constant entertainment. And the film is entertaining.
The friends in the group, like our leads, are simple and mostly one-dimensional in a way that works for this type of movie. Brooks has some skeletons in his closet that tarnish his image — he’s the most straight faced person among the bunch and, consequently, the most boring. But Ryan (Billy Magnussen) is the doltish, affable friend whose series of shallow plus-ones gets tested when he comes to Brooks’ game night with the older Sarah (Sharon Hogan). Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) are childhood sweethearts who spend most of the film arguing over Michelle’s ostensible lapse in faithfulness with a celebrity over 10 years ago — in between evading gun-toting criminals and solving riddles, of course. The odd man out is Gary, played perfectly bone dry by the great Jesse Plemons. Gary’s a lover of lamb shanks, a proud dog owner, an officer of the law and, most importantly, a major creep. Seriously, Plemons is great in all the serious roles he’s been in so far but seeing him as this grave weirdo ranks among the most memorable. Max and Annie used to invite him to game nights, back when he was still married to his wife, but since their divorce (a bleakly recurring motif that adds insult to injury and is brutally hilarious), he’s turned into a proper oddball.
Halfway through watching “Game Night,” it’s easy to get frustrated with the incessant references to pop culture. Even now, it’s important to note that merely referencing something doesn’t equate to making a joke (see: “Family Guy”), but in reflecting on the context of a bunch of trivia junkies in a screwball comedy of their own, it only makes sense.
Verdict: “Game Night” doesn’t look to be anything special because it isn’t. But must every film be special to be watchable? Of course not, especially with regards to comedies as big as this one. In all its absurdity, “Game Night” promises a respectable amount of laughs that warrants at least one viewing some time down the line.