GAME NIGHT- Review
Yes, Valentine’s Day was over a week ago, but many longtime couples are still trying to rekindle that special spark in their relationship. Of course that “Fifty Shades” flick is still in theatres, but maybe they don’t want to have some time together that could leave some bruises that others would question (guess you didn’t yell “red’ quickly enough). The 2010 comedy DATE NIGHT had Tina and Steve getting away from their kids, and getting mixed-up in a high-octane crime caper. What if the couple are childless and want to enjoy some time with similar couples (now just get those BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE jokes about that 1969 classic out of your dirty minds)? Well, the year before that “date” flick there was the COUPLES RETREAT romp, but that was an exotic vacation locale. A more casual weekly get-together, just eating cheese, drinking wine, and setting out those Milton Bradley-type classics (and no “Twister’, they aren’t teens…somebody could be on their way to the chiropractor) may be more in order. Hey, what could go wrong with a friendly GAME NIGHT? Enough manic mayhem to fuel this weekend’s new comedy, that’s what.
The main gaming couple at the center of this story is Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams). They actually “meet cute” while at a bar’s trivia night. Eventually they even marry at one of those “Dave & Buster”-style arcade emporium eateries. They’ve settled into suburbia and are psyched to be hosting this week’s game night. The usual friends will be there. There’s the other married couple, Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), who have been together much longer than Max and Annie, literally grade school sweethearts. And then there’s ladies’ man Ryan (Billy Magnussen) who shows up with another of a near-endless stream of dim, selfie-snapping bimbos. Hopefully they can all arrive without creepy neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons) seeing them. He and his ex Debbie were part of the group, but since she split (or escaped), he makes the gang very uncomfortable. Oh, this night is extra special because of a new addition, Max’s globe-trotting financial whiz single older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who’s in town for a quick business trip. Despite Max’s sibling rivalry issues with Brooks (really messes up his “Scattagory” game play), all goes well. So much so, that Brooks invites everyone to the swanky home he’s renting to have a game night that “takes it up a notch”. The whole crew, Max and Annie, Kevin and Michelle, and Ryan, now with brainy (he thinks she’s British) co-worker Ireland-born Sarah (Sharon Hogan) shows up at the plush pad. But no board games tonight, instead it’s a crime mystery, complete with hired actors. The remaining players will have to find and rescue the “kidnap victim”. As the special “FBI director” (Jeffrey Wright) hands out packs of clues, masked thugs barge in, knock him out, and take off with Brooks. While the “FBI” guy is down, Max and Annie take off as they track Brook’s cell phone. When Mr. FBI wakes up, he tells the other two couples that the thugs weren’t part of his “crime game” acting troupe. Brooks has really been grabbed. Thus begins a night of narrow escapes, double crosses, twists, turns, Faberge eggs, and underground “rich people” fight clubs.
The palpable chemistry between the talented cast makes their most outrageous antics most entertaining. This is the most energized performance we’ve seen from Bateman in long time. His snarky come-backs and put-down are still flying fast, while displaying loads of affection for his co-stars, particularly McAdams as the sweet, slightly daft Annie. After a slew of serious flicks (and lots of tear-jerkers), it’s great to see her cutting loose in her funniest work since she was the leader of those MEAN GIRLS and the lady in love with one of the WEDDING CRASHERS. Happily they aren’t the only crazy couple. Bunbury and Morris have a terrific running gag about a celebrity “hall pass’ that springs up at unexpected times (Kevin is like a dog with a bone, he will not stop till he finds out the name of Michelle’s famous one-time “hook-up”). Magnussen makes a most believable “him-bo” as a handsome over-confident shallow dimwit, a great sparring partner to Horgan’s smart, sassy Irish “lassie”, who may be falling for Ryan despite her qualms. Chandler is all smooth-talking charm as the oblivious-to-others Brooks until his luck finally runs out, though he still delights in teasing his annoyed lil’ bro’. Wright and Chelsea Peretti deliver great comedy cameos as the crime party actors. But the movie’s MVP may be the scene-stealing Plemons as the weird, awkward policeman next door. Despite the best efforts of Max and Annie to avoid him, Gary just pops up everywhere (like Droopy the dog in those classic Tex Avery MGM cartoons), making time stand still with his dead-eyed stare and unrelenting inquiries (“Isn’t that a lot of Tostitos Scoops for a quiet night in?”), all while cradling his fuzzy white dog. His “off the wall” delivery elevates the story to a loopy, bizarre dimension.
The directing team of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have followed up their so-so 2015 reboot of VACATION with a much funnier, more original adult-centered comedy caper flick. They get the wild, zany nature of these weekly get-togethers and present an engaging couple at its center, who aren’t perfect (they don’t wanna’ have fun, they wanna’ win), but are equally loopy (not the straight-laced guy and his wacky wifey). The script from Mark Perez may stretch the limits of logistics (can things really be planned ahead so perfectly), but all is forgiven when Plemons is working his magic bizarro mojo (be sure and stay for the inspired end credits). The gags fly fast and furious, only slowing down for some vivid visual gags and supremely silly slapstick. Despite a few too many twists (and endings), audiences should roll the dice and move six spaces to the multiplex for GAME NIGHT.
3.5 Out of 5