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Review: "Game Night"

by Chris Feil

An enjoyable, modest studio comedy is a rare breed these days, each entry trying to out-stunt or out-horrify the other for shock laughs. Some miss the mark entirely. Enter Game Night, a formulaic comedy unconcerned with one-upmanship, and quite enjoyable all the same.

Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman star as Annie and Max, a couple struggling to conceive. They're united by their competitive streaks which get full reign over their weekly get-togethers with friends. When the usual gathering gets overtaken by Max’s more successful and handsome older brother Brooks (played by Kyle Chandler), a harmless mystery role playing game is overtaken by an actual violent kidnapping. The group must save Brooks from his kidnappers, and maybe nurse Max’s bruised jealousy in the process...

The concise setup is complimented by an equally modest but pleasant Annie and Max. This couple is a riff on the once-hip-but-no-longer-cool. They've already begun to lose what little edge and cultural adeptness they once had, raging against the dying of the light of enveloping suburban blandness. The film respects rather than condescends to their nuclear unit aims, but it does help that it thinks they are the cool kids instead of being one of those folks.

Game Night is more middle than high concept comedy, and it’s anarchy steps only one foot into the kind of outlandishness that its bawdy contemporaries use to craft water-cooler moments. The ensemble shines with differing styles of humor from Lamorne Morris’s jealous friend, Billy Magnusson’s dimwitted lothario, and especially Jesse Plemons’s creepy neighbor cop. Game Night aims for the middle of the road and, in doing so, exceeds its noticeably low bar. Though this film does have some bits of inspired visual panache to its few setpieces, its more likely to be remembered as a fun distraction than for any of its moments. Mid-jinx ensue.

You can find the lack of ambition reflected in the game night choices as well. This is perhaps a personal grudge for yours truly, but it’s somewhat odd to see this supposedly hardcore gaming couple stick to the basics like Clue and Monopoly to stoke their rampant competitiveness. Those of us who know their board games (and internalized aggressive need to win, fuckers!) will see this group of friends as a bunch of amateurs, perhaps with a very specific branding and product placement to blame. Parker Brothers, we salute you.

The comedy is something of a pop culture overload, filled with references in its punchlines that are best served to an audience that will get all of its in-jokes and nods. Despite the simple formula, the film is still very funny throughout. It’s like the celebrity game show of studio comedies: the rules take a backseat to the chemistry between players and the jokes don’t wait for you to catch up. Luckily, it hits the ground running and doesn't outstay its welcome. You can’t really blame it for being disposable.

Chief among its delights is Rachel McAdams return to comedy. While her performance isn’t of the icy genius of Regina George or tinged with emotion like she’s exhibited in films like The Family Stone, she elevates Game Night to a purely fun romp. After more recent understated work (including a layered and moving performance in the upcoming Disobedience), the actress lets loose and the film benefits greatly. Her pluckiness is infectious, turning Annie’s competitive ego into a high art of self-aware goofiness and reckless affability. She’s just the tops, guys.

While most of the film’s scenarios and setups dissolve as soon as you’ve watched them, Game Night has a steady stream of laughs over its economic 100 minutes. If these kinds of comedies have become a bludgeon, this one is more like a whack-a-mole hammer. It doesn’t hit hard, but maybe thank goodness for that? And sure, it’s plenty fun.

Grade: C+ (Laughs: B+)

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Reader Comments (4)

It's good to see Rachel McAdams back to comedy.
I'm currently rewatching AD for a 3rd time, so Jason Bateman is very present in my life.

Big fan of Catastrophe, good to see Sharon getting some movies.

Billy Magnusson seems to be stuck to always play a certain type... Unfortunatelly. Maybe TV would be a good option for him,.. Joel Kinnaman sorte role.

Regarding the movie, the reviews are better than expected... I'll probably watch it

February 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTiago

That first trailer made me actually laugh out loud in the theater. It looks fun. Now if only I had one of those, what do you call them?, "dates"?

February 24, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Nice to see McAdams' beautiful turn in The Family Stone mentioned here.

February 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterClement_Paris

Jesse Plemons is DELIGHTFUL here. Could not stop laughing whenever he was on screen. The rest of the cast was pretty aces as well and while I agree this was pretty middle of the road, it was still pretty damn funny.

February 28, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

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