Directors: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Stars: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Jesse Plemmons
As I sit writing this, the snow from this week’s weather front is thawing on the roof and cascading down the side of the house. The gutters – already a problem – are overflowing from the melt; fat, heavy droplets spattering on the windowsill. It’s like listening to two Autechre concerts happening simultaneously. What relevance does this contextual tidbit have for Game Night? Absolutely none. But if my writing’s a little off, I’m blaming it on the weather.
Game Night is a new Hollywood comedy from directing partners John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, a duo seemingly looking to bring an element of flare to a genre that hasn’t shown it very often of late. Between them they’ve chalked up numerous high-profile writing credits on everything from Horrible Bosses to the (very funny) Spider-man: Homecoming. This is their second venture as a directing team, and its an assured piece of work, one that not only fulfills the mandate of a comedy movie – laughs – but does so with a healthy splash of pizzazz.
[drip-drip drip dr-drip-drip splat drip drip splat…]
The situation here sees Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as gaming couple Max and Annie. In a whistle-stop opening set-up, we come to learn that they came together because of their shared competitiveness and love of gaming. Every week they hold a, yes, games night with their friends (another two couples). They’re also trying for a baby, but Max has been thrown off his – ahem – game by the imminent arrival of his older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler).
Max has always fallen in the shadow of his sibling, who takes every chance to belittle him. As a peace-offering – or possibly to one-up him once more – Brooks offers to hold the next games night at his swanky new pad across town. When the gang shows up, Brooks reveals it’s a role-playing mystery game. When he is abducted Max, Annie and co. assume its all part of the act… but is it?
It may sound a little like The Man Who Knew Too Little, but Game Night feels altogether different from the Bill Murray movie of yore. The comedy stylings are more modern, along with the reference points (screenwriter Mark Perez appears to be an avid fan of Tarantino and, err, Taken 3), while Daley and Goldstein take the opportunity to vector this situation comedy through the neon lens of modern noir. There’s even a slick electro soundtrack from frequent Nicolas Winding Refn collaborator Cliff Martinez. As misunderstandings spiral into violence, Game Night bounces between goofy comedy and actual crime thriller territory.
The emphasis, however, is always on the former. There’s always a worry with a movie like this that the spoiler-heavy trailer will have given away the movie’s best gags. True enough, some funny moments are tripped by foreknowledge, but as often as not these are preludes to a bigger punchline. The sequence teased in the trailer with the dog, for instance, has a little more mileage than you might have thought. See also a scene involving a squeaky toy. For at least the first two-thirds, Game Night stays strong bringing the funny.
The do-more spirit behind the camera adds nice little flourishes here and there, also. A sequence involving egg-tossing feels stylised like a John Wick shoot-out, all zooming cameras and invisible edits, while scenes are occasionally established with cute little models. It’s a gimmick, but an endearing one.
Bateman is at home with this kinda stuff, providing his usual dry delivery, while it’s always fun to find McAdams at play in looser roles like this. It suits her as much as straight drama. Surrounding them are an interesting mix of supporting players who all add something. Special shout-out to Jesse Plemmons, who steals the show as Max and Annie’s neighbour Gary; the stiff cop they no longer wanna play with.
Come the end, credulity is stretched and then snaps, but by this point you’ve been carried by a lot of good will so its easy to forgive. This punchy comedy belts along, over and done in a tidy 100 minutes. Thanks to its visual flair and the writer’s cinephile sensibilities, it ought to satisfy all comers; both those simply looking for a fun night at the cinema, and also those who’d ask of it just a little bit more.
The dripping stopped… It stopped!
[drip-drip splatter drip dr-drip-drip-dr-dr-drip…]
Anyone for game night…?