Review: Game Night

Surprisingly snappy comedy packs a punch too. McAdams shines.

When you watch as many movies as I do, certain cinematic clichés become disproportionately grating. If I never see another film open with an aerial shot rushing across water, or ending with a car/boat/horse/spaceship/whatever heading into the sunset, I’ll be very happy.

Main characters having a deep and meaningful while steadfastly refusing to look at one another, gazing out a window/over a cliff? Begone. And why, in holy hell, does almost every fight scene ever choreographed have to result in at least one person being thrown through a glass-topped coffee table?

It’s for this highly unreasonable reason that I whooped for unadulterated joy when the deliriously fun Game Night took that latter niggle and turned it into a running joke that breaks (or rather doesn’t) the mould.

Anchored by Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman, a highly charismatic pairing, they play a ridiculously competitive couple who enjoy hosting (and winning) weekly game nights with their best mates. Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury) are a mostly loving couple hung up on a misunderstanding, while doofus jock Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and his succession of identikit blonde dates has very little going on full stop. The invite list doesn’t include odd cop neighbour Gary (Jesse Plemons), who has become increasingly more intense since his divorce.

The sudden reappearance of Max’ hot shot brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) upends he and Annie’s dream run, relocating their fiercely territorial hosting of game night to his much flasher pad. Adding insult to injury, he one-ups their board games and charades too, instead staging a murder mystery night. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen, but big business Brooks has some skeletons in his closet and the drama gets real when some seriously nefarious gangsters crash the party.

The thing is, Annie, Max and co, including Catastrophe star Sharon Horgan as Ryan’s uncharacteristically sharp date for the night Sarah, have no idea that Brook’s subsequent violent kidnapping is the real deal, setting out to locate him thinking it’s all part of the act.

Penned by Herbie Fully Loaded scribe Mark Perez and directed by Vacation helmers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, you’d be forgiven for fearing what follows would be pretty blah. What you actually get is a snappy comedy brimming with enough barmy ideas and sassy one-liners to smash through a hoot-filled 100 minutes, during which no coffee tables are harmed.

Game Night’s fusion of thriller and sharp-witted humour gets to subvert more than few cinematic tropes along the way while packing in a plot whammy or two too, and the stakes feel higher because, unlike, say, Home Alone, the violence is shown to hurt.

Benefitting considerably from cinematographer Barry Peterson’s nifty camerawork, including high-octane car chases and a neat game of mansion footy, zippy editing and a synth-grinding score from The Neon Demon’s Cliff Martinez, this even gave me hope for Daley and Goldstein’s take on DC’s upcoming superhero offering Flashpoint.

McAdams seems to relish getting back into the Mean Girls groove after far too long trapped in sappy pap, with Horgan getting to caustically skewer male egos. By the time Michael C Hall shows up in a wicked cameo, this Game Night had me won over.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords