Movie Review: Game Night
Jason Bateman has a comic edge all his own, but the only sharp knife in this junk drawer of cluttered genre is Rachel McAdams, who brings perfect timing and believable emotions to a farce about a murder mystery gone awry.
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Sharon Horgan, Billy Magnusen, Kylie Bunbury, Lamorne Morris, Jesse Plemons
Directed by: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Running time: 1 hr 40 mins
By Katherine Monk
Board games are big again, but Game Night bored. Such a disappointment: The new Jason Bateman-Rachel McAdams movie billed as “action-comedy” by the marketing department at Warner Brothers had a gorgeous package and brilliant advertising, promising some grown-up entertainment with a mischievous twist.
Yet, once you open the box and take out the pieces, it’s just a matter of going from one contrived square to another. Not even the rolls of the dice add up to more than three-act narrative math.
Meet Max and Annie, a happy couple who fell in love while playing bar trivia. They enjoy mental challenges and a good contest among friends, but years into their marriage, they’re wondering if it’s time to take the big leap in to the land of grown-ups and have a child.
Annie (McAdams) is all for it. Max (Bateman), on the other hand, has reservations. He’s also having some sperm count issues. Will the two game lovers be forced to leave the days of play behind? Can love overcome the forces of gravity, and keep the Jenga tower of love erect?
These are the deeper issues that are supposed to form the relatable ground layer to what is otherwise a frantic, often grotesque, farce. For as the ads and trailers make abundantly clear, Game Night’s whole set-up is a murder mystery party gone awry.
Knowing Max is a big fan of games, his older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) arranges a special soiree with Max’s friends. He spares no expense, because Brooks not only has cash, he likes to diminish his little brother at every opportunity.
Max tries not to be impressed, so when Brooks’s big game night is interrupted by masked men with guns, Max and Annie — and the rest of Max’s sympathetic friends — are blasé. Little do they know they’re in real danger.
That’s the movie’s whole pivot point: You think it’s a game, but it could be real. Then again, it could all be an elaborate gag. The guessing is supposed to keep us engaged, but in this particular instance, it’s more like enraged.
It wasn’t just the impossible string of events, but the stumbling tone that finally wore me out. Writer-directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Horrible Bosses, Spider-Man Homecoming) know how to craft a good line and create funny scenarios, but they never land on the right spot in Game Night. After all, it’s all fun and games until someone gets shot in the arm.
Goldstein and Daley do their best to keep things light, but that only makes things a bit more confusing from an emotional standpoint because there’s no real contrast. Nothing feels real at all, from the pain inflicted by a gunshot wound, to the emotional connection between the characters.
For a movie like this to work, you need to walk the dotted line between vulgarity and dry wit. Others have done it, from Eating Raoul to The Hangover, but Daley and Goldstein can’t seem to generate enough momentum between the moments to keep this cart of couples-movie cliche, police drama tropes and shock value violence from getting stuck in its own muddy plot.
McAdams is the bright spot in this limping effort. She’s the one who nails the physical and emotional side of the routine, giving the viewer at least one anchor in the shallow sediment of denouement.
She gets some help from her co-star (and also exec-producer) Bateman, whose ability to turn the Everyman’s flaws into comic fodder is foolproof. It’s as if he’s fused the uptight consternation of Tony Randall’s Felix Unger with the cantankerous flare of Jack Klugman’s Oscar Madison, giving us a one-man Odd Couple — a character forever incapable of feeling comfortable in his own skin.
It’s Bateman’s shtik. He’s good at it, but it can suck the life out of the frame without comic bumpers capable of flipping him off. McAdams is one, Jesse Plemons and Kyle Chandler are others, but the rest feel more like tokens than players.
Game Night delivers a few laughs thanks to the ladies and their innate comic timing, but by the end, it felt like an extended episode of Scooby-Doo — without a Great Dane, or the character dimension.
THE EX-PRESS, February 23, 2018