Time To Play The Game: Our Review of ‘Game Night’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - February 23, 2018
Time To Play The Game: Our Review of ‘Game Night’

As a film critic, I do my best to go into every movie with an open mind. I want to give each film a fair shot at impressing or disappointing me – but I’m only human. And when the film on my calendar is a cringe-comedy from the team behind Horrible Bosses 2, even Leslie Knope couldn’t stay optimistic in my shoes. But sometimes the movie gods are generous, and an under-the-radar picture delivers in unexpected ways. Co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s Game Night is one such pleasant surprise. Armed with Mark Perez’s clever script and a stacked cast, Game Night delivers great characters, a satisfying story, and non-stop laughs.

We like to say that opposites attract, but quite often, we fall for people that share the same passions as us. Years ago, Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), a couple of super-competitive people, saw each other from across the room at a pub’s trivia night and they were instant soulmates. They forged their love in the heat of competition; games of Scrabble, Galaga, and Dance Dance Revolution. Now, the pair of well-to-do suburbanites scratches their competitive itch by hosting game nights for their closest friends.

Max and Annie’s lives go through the ringer after Max’s cooler, wealthier, and more handsome older brother, Brooks (cool, wealthy, and handsome Kyle Chandler), comes to town and hosts a game night at his place. Instead of a board game, Brooks books a live-action murder mystery role-playing session which includes a hammy actor (Jeffrey Wright) who arrives and sets the game in motion. The night takes a dark turn when a pair of actual criminals show up and kidnap Max. Thinking everything is fine, the game night crew proceed to play “the game,” following a series of clues that bring them into contact with real murderers, kidnappers, and thieves.

It’s clear that Game Night isn’t working from a hackneyed script. Perez shows a thorough understanding of the genres he’s riffing on – action, crime, and even other comedies – and he has concocted a clever joke-writing formula. Whenever you think you see some cliché beat coming from a mile away, the film pulls the rug out from under you and subverts the trope. You start to recognize the pattern towards the end of the movie, but at a tight 100-minutes long, Game Night ends before the joke formula wears out its welcome.

The film fires off all kinds of spot-on meta jokes, often doing so by imitating the action movies and crime flicks it’s mocking. What’s most impressive is how effective Game Night is at pulling off these impressions. There are more than a few moments where if you squint hard enough you might believe you’re watching a David Fincher style thriller. There are exhilarating chases and heart-racing moments of tension that go above and beyond what you expect in a cringe-comedy.

DP Barry Peterson’s atmospheric lighting and slick camera work go a long way toward infusing Game Night with an authentic crime-movie vibe. The camera slides, pans, and rumbles behind vehicles tearing down the road as though we are watching a Fast and the Furious movie. Speaking of furious, there is a complicated tracking shot that takes place on multiple floors of a mansion, where the cast throw around a Fabergé egg in a game of hot potato with some musclebound goons. The camera work is on point and it requires a degree of choreography on par with much better films. Cliff Martinez’s pulse-pounding score adds another layer of tension to the action. The moody synth beats sound like something out of a classic John Carpenter movie. The dark, propulsive, and anxiety-inducing music dials up the intensity whenever it kicks in.

Game Night features a large, recognizable cast and has a lot of narrative juggling to do to service them all. It’s rare that a picture balances this many characters so effectively. From top to bottom, everyone in the cast receives time to define their character and win the audience over. And while there isn’t a weak performance among them, a couple do stand out. Jesse Plemons’ character Gary may not be part of the game night crew but he makes his screen time count. He’s a sentimental divorcee who might be cinema’s all-time sweetest creepy guy. To say any more is to venture into spoiler territory. Plemons knocks it out of the park with Gary, the film’s scene stealer and a character destined to launch 1000 GIFs.

McAdams’ Annie is the cast’s most adorable character not named Gary. She has the tough job of playing competitive, ambitious, and competent without coming off as obnoxious. It’s tough to pull off but she nails it. McAdams’ has great chemistry with her onscreen husband and their emotional journey forms the spine of the movie. Despite Game Night being a crude comedy, it’s the film’s earnest depiction of love, support, and friendship that holds the story together.

This movie would go off the rails pretty quick if the audience doesn’t buy into the friendship between the main characters. These guys look forward to spending Saturday nights together playing Scrabble so it makes sense that they aren’t bullies or snarky putdown artists. Game Night doesn’t go the easy route and mine humour from the characters taking verbal cheap shots. Instead, they keep finding themselves in obscene circumstances and the laughs come from watching how each oddball’s personality deals with adversity. When s#!t hits the fan, and it often does, I believe that these are people who would put themselves in harm’s way to help each other out.

Simply put: Game Night is a well-made movie and a fun watch. The script is loaded with setups, payoffs, and callbacks that make for comedy gold – make sure you stay until the end of the credits for one final laugh. Aside from the great comedic set pieces, there are a couple legitimately thrilling action beats. Throw in the memorable (and super quotable) performances from the top-notch cast and you have a film that will stand as one of 2018’s better comedies.

  • Release Date: 2/23/2018
This post was written by
Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based freelance writer and pop culture curator. Victor currently contributes insights, criticisms, and reviews to several online publications where he has extended coverage to the Toronto International Film Festival, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada. Victor has a soft spot in his heart for Tim Burton movies and his two poorly behaved beagles (but not in that order).
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