Director: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Billy Magnussen, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons
Running time: 100 minutes
Competitive couple Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams) host a weekly game night with their mix-match of pals. But when Max’s older and more successful brother Brooks (Chandler) shows up to put on the game night to end all game nights, the rulebook is quickly shredded when the elaborate murder-mystery set-up sees Brooks getting kidnapped for real. And so, the group must play all the right cards in order to save him.
To review Game Night is to tap into a pun lover’s paradise. Over the years, we’ve had a scrabble of board game-themed films – Clue, Jumanji, and Ouja (I guess that’s kind if a board game, right?) – that aim to bring the number one cause of family fallings out to life. It’s often a risk, with very few winners, exacerbated substantially by the 90’s pandemic of arcade-game themed films – such widely heralded masterpieces as Street Fighter, Doom, Mortal Kombat, and Super Mario Bros.. All had the premise, all had the (A-list) players, none had any of the right pieces.
We thought we’d climbed a ladder in 2012 with the charming Wreck It Ralph; but Pixels quickly saw to it that the genre was again sliding down the back of a snake. Frustration! or what?
But, now in 2018, Game Night might just be the get out of jail card we all needed. It’s loud, funny, senseless, and totally bonkers. But – unless you’re aged 16 and on back-row first date – it’ll be the most fun you’ve had in a cinema in a long while.
After the initial narrative beats, the rules seem pretty straightforward. A married couple who love nothing more than handing out a beating to their friends each week over nibbles and Pictionary; but can never get the top score in Settling-down-and-starting-a-family Pursuit (she does, he doesn’t)? An elaborate game night hosted by the irritatingly arrogant big brother that gets totally out of hand? Check. Check mate.
But when the game soon turns into a true game of life (and death), and the gang find themselves rolling with the big-time players of the criminal underworld, all rules go out the window as directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein – with help from one razor-sharp, cultural-reference rich script from writer Mark Perez – throw some wonderfully inventive twists and neat stylistic choices our way. They just seem to say ‘F**k it’ and run with it, letting the pieces fall as they may. And somehow, all the pieces seem to fall in the right places.
But amidst the over the top craziness that is Game Night’s second half, the film never loses sight of what makes any game work: the players. Max and Annie might be the ones we’re rooting for (helped by Bateman and McAdams palpable chemistry on screen), but there’s enough supporting character fleshing and sub-plotting to make this an altogether rounded and satisfying ensemble piece. Lamorne Morris’ Kevin becomes fixated on discovering the truth behind a Never Have I Ever game revelation; brawn meets brain as the dim-witted Ryan (Magnussen) and the sharp Sarah (Horgan) form an unlikely partnership; and even the man absent for large parts of the action (the ever dependable Chandler) gets his $200-as-you-pass-go worth of characterisation.
However, despite the characters’ best efforts to exclude him, it is Jesse Plemons’ Gary who ends up being the outright winner of this here game night. Running away with every scene he’s in, Gary is the quintessential creepy neighbour: awkward, dead-eyed, dog-loving, with an unhealthy obsession for his ex-wife, he wants nothing more than to be included in Max and Annie’s social events. It works because we all know someone like it. And if you don’t, that’s because it’s you.
Game Night isn’t going to stimulate you on any intellectual level – unless you’re a medical student wanting to learn the proper procedure of removing a bullet from someone’s arm, that is – and the only two things it’ll leave you thinking about is how your rich friends spend their Saturday nights, and Denzel Washington. But you know what, I’m ok with that.
Five words. First word: Game. Second word: Night. Third word: Is. Fourth word: A. Fifth word: Blast!