A movie called Game Night ought to be a laugh riot, right?
Then why does it end up being such a farce of a farce?
Game Night has a few going for it – one helluva cast (Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnusson, Kyle Chandler, Sharon Horgan, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Danny Huston, Michael C. Hall, Chelsea Peretti, Camille Chen and more); an opening meet cute that is original and clever; the establishment of a weekly get together for a games night; the sad sack neighbor who used to be part of the group (and is also a cop with a cute dog), and, finally, the idea that what starts out as a special murder mystery game night turns out to be the real thing – but no knows it.
That’s a recipe for fun, right?
Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (who probably should have written it) from a script by Mark Perez, Games Night wants to be an action-comedy/farce.
Pains are taken to show how bright the main characters are – and how creepy the guy next door is.
Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams) only find each other because of their smarts and competitive spirits – and friends Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Bunbury) are also shown to be on the same level. Their friend Ryan (Billy Magnusson), on the other hand, is a himbo who shows with a vapid new date every time – usually looking and sounded exactly alike.
Max, alas, has always been envious of his brother, Brooks (Chandler), who arrives one night and manages to make fun of their home and completely undermine him.
To make it up, he promises to throw a special games night at his rented house (rented because he’s a big shot conducting interviews for his Wall Street company).
Once everyone has gathered at Brooks’ palatial home, the group learns that he has planned an extra special murder mystery night – with a twist: at some point, thugs will break in and grab him – and the group will have until midnight to find him before he’s killed, and the game is over.
The movie’s twist is that there are real thugs who really kidnap Brooks – beating up the game’s faux FBI agent in the process.
On this night, Ryan has brought a friend from work – Sarah (Horgan) is smart, funny and definitely not one of his usual clones.
So, the three couples set out to find Brooks – one manages to actually follow the kidnappers; another heads to the office of the Murder Mystery Game providers, and well, you get the idea.
So far, so good – even very good.
Then, out of nowhere, everyone’s intelligence (except for Sarah’s, but since she doesn’t know Ryan’s friends, that’s not much help) and a series of fast-paced idiocies ensue.
One example – the group is searching a crime boss’ (Huston) house for a Faberge egg and Ryan lifts it from an open safe while everyone else is watching an entirely different spectacle – until, suddenly every eye is on Ryan.
Ryan shouts, ‘Hold on a sec!’ And. They. Do! Giving Ryan a chance to bolt.
Almost all of the second act is on that level – where a good farce would have had these smart (except for Ryan) people make smart moves that somehow went wrong.
Then there’s the jet engine gag – featured in the trailer – that is completely the wrong tone for the movie as it’s been set up. It’s a shock/jump moment that allows McAdams to simultaneously show relief and horror, but it belongs in a Seth McFarlane movie or TV show (it would be perfectly at home on Family Guy, for instance).
Then, when we reach the big finale, there are three false endings before things wind up. All of these fake endings are clever, with the best twist coming on the final one – but between the multiple fake endings and the gloriously clever opening sequences, there are just too many instances of idiot plotting to make Game Night worth spending your eight-to-ten dollars, plus treats, babysitters, parking or whatever.
It’s entirely possible that it might be worth a look on cable, but even then, it’d be a close call.
Game Night is a game that probably should not have been played.
Final Grade: C-