3.5 out of 5 stars (Above Average)
In my opinion, Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are two of the most likable actors working today. Both are approachable, charismatic, and make mostly solid career choices. (Excluding Bateman’s The Change-Up, a study in how not to make a raunchy comedy, and McAdams’ less-than-Oscar-worthy turns in those Sherlock Holmes movies). Game Night brings the two together as a couple who get way in over their heads with one such night: dodging guns, crooks, and other crazy things that all 40-year-old couples deal with on a Friday night, or at least in this movie they do. Game Night is a clever black comedy/thriller with solid laughs, some crazy antics, and a standout performance from Rachel McAdams. May this be her comeback vehicle, because she is its biggest asset.
Bateman and McAdams star as Max and Annie, a competitive couple who engage in weekly game nights with their other couple friends: Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury), and the womanizing Ryan (Billy Magnussen), who is currently dating the blonde British Sarah (Sharon Horgan). The only hitch: Their creepy next-door neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons, Breaking Bad), who just so happens to be the ex-husband of Annie’s sister. He’s the kind of guy who carries his little white dog to the mailbox and has a dead-eyed stare that wouldn’t look out of place on a Criminal Minds episode, something that Plemons has made a career out of.
Max gets a punch to the ego with the arrival of his more successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler). Not only does Brooks drive the car Max has always wanted, invested in Panera Bread, and looks like, well, Kyle Chandler, but he also steals game night away from Max and suggests the next one take place at his house, to which everyone agrees. Once there, Brooks presents them with a murder-mystery game in which the winner will get Brooks’ car. However, things soon spiral out of control as the couples embark on a night that none of them were ready for.
Game Night is surprisingly dark and bloody for a Jason Bateman movie. Not that he hasn’t dabbled in dark humor before (see Horrible Bosses), but this film is as much a thriller as it is a dark comedy, and as such is quite gory in places (and hilarious as a result). I watched in disbelief as the film was able to balance being an unpredictable thriller and a wild comedy while maintaining a consistent tone throughout, all due to an enjoyably menacing musical score. I haven’t seen a legitimately dark comedy in a long time, and this film was truly a breath of fresh, messed-up air.
The performances are all solid, with Bateman doing his normal neurotic shtick and Chandler being charmingly swarmy. However, they are both blown out of the water by Rachel McAdams, who delivers one of the most energetic performances so far this year, with Plemons not far behind. I hope she returns to comedy more often, as she is clearly having the most fun out of the entire cast. The other couples are quite funny, but it had more to do with the script than the actors themselves. I was thankful that improvisation was kept to a minimum, proving my theory that, gasp, a good comedy comes from a good script, not funny people excessively mugging to the camera. The same goes for the camerawork, with a standout sequence in which the camera follows the characters tossing an egg back and forth to keep it out of harm’s way. It won’t win any Oscars, but it’s rare to see a comedy with this much effort released so early in the year.
Game Night is dark, funny, and unpredictable, relying on a solid script rather than excessive improvisation, and has a great comic cast. Though I occasionally tired of Bateman’s angst, there are far more jokes that hit it out of the park than those that meet dead air. This is a must-see for fans of dark comedies, Rachel McAdams, and anyone who wants a darker flavor of humor. See it.
Rated R for Language, Sexual References, And Some Violence