The Austin Chronicle

Game Night

Rated R, 100 min. Directed by John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein. Starring Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Jesse Plemons, Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Kylie Bunbury, Danny Huston, Chelsea Peretti, Lamorne Morris.

REVIEWED By Danielle White, Fri., Feb. 23, 2018

During the opening scene of Game Night, co-directors John Francis Daley (Freaks and Geeks) and Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses) don’t skip a beat as they plunge you into a first-comes-love, then-comes-marriage montage between the film’s leading couple, Annie (McAdams) and Max (Bateman) – in like five seconds flat. The pacing never really lets up from there as we quickly learn that Annie and Max host a regular game night (featuring parlor staples like charades and Scrabble) with the same friends until Max’s brother Brooks (a very game Chandler) shows up to put his own flashy spin on things because sibling rivalry. What’s meant to be a lighthearted interactive “murder-mystery” quickly goes off the rails – it’s literally all fun and games until someone gets hurt – in a plot involving the local friendly neighborhood crime syndicate, because it’s never really a party until someone pisses off the mob.

The film owes what charm it has to a whip-smart script (heavy on double entendres – a delight for word nerds and game geeks alike), and the chemistry between its actors. Coach Taylor’s still got it, for sure, but there’s something rather unconventional going on between Horgan and Magnussen. It’s a sort of inversion of the typical bimbo-bashing that’s all too common not only in film but in our culture in general (OMG she’s so vapid! She’s always taking selfies!), but here we get to see a man bearing the brunt of the “dumb blonde” jokes while his comedic partner runs circles around him. It feels like a fresh take at least, but the rest of the film's humor itself is a little dark, and Plemons’ weirdo cop neighbor Gary only provides awkward tension.

Meanwhile, the film constantly strives to one-up itself in the name of entertainment. It’s a bit smug, but self-aware. For example, Max starts to make a sappy speech about starting a family, and Annie interrupts him to ask, “Are you doing a metaphor right now?” And while there may be an actual metaphor regarding the emotional games people play with each other, Game Night never fully surrenders to anything that meaningful. It’s too busy pummeling you with pop-culture references and final scene fake outs. It feels a bit like someone wanted to make a Coen brothers movie for the Clue crowd: Let’s call it kitschy noir.

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