Just as Many Losers as Winners in ‘Game Night’

Game Night

If you’ve seen The Game (1997), you know the plot of one’s estranged brother returning with the gift of a real-life mystery game. And you probably also know the uneasy feeling you get when everything goes awry, and the suspense that might be real or fake that builds as the characters are subject to plot twist on top of plot twist.

But whereas in The Game the younger brother gifts the experience to the rich brother, the roles are flipped as the rich brother gifts the experience to his younger suburbanite brother in Game Night. And this time, it’s even more unclear as to who is in on the game.

Contrary to The Game, Game Night is one of those star-driven studio comedies that usually falls quickly into stasis. Starring Jason Bateman as Max and Rachel McAdams as Annie, it focuses on a game-loving married couple who host weekly game nights at their suburban home for their pals Ryan (Billy Magnussen), the dim-witted bachelor who always brings a clueless date, and Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), the other married couple who have been together since they were 14. Constantly trying to get his way into the tradition is Gary (Jesse Plemons), the divorced and hilariously eccentric neighbor.  

In a creative introduction montage, we find out Max and Annie fell in love over their shared passion for trivia, board games, video games, etc. Their wedding dance was even a shared round of Dance Dance Revolution. But as they proceed to form alliances in Risk and effortlessly win every charades game they participate in, they soon face real life issues with their inability to have kids.

The doctor thinks it might be a result of Max’s stress as his older, mega-successful and smug brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) is coming to town, re-surfacing Max’s lifelong insecurities. Brooks’s tendency to belittle Max seems to continue when he offers to host the next game night at the luxury mansion he is renting for his stay. And this game night, Brooks promises, will be something special.

Brooks’s game night, it seems, is modeled after an interactive murder mystery, but when he gets violently kidnapped midway through, the audience begins to suspect something might not be going as planned while the characters laugh along as if it were part of the game. This sets off a chain of reactions that carries all the way through the movie. The events get increasingly more hectic and absurd—with slapstick and ironic humor constantly running alongside. The plot twists persist, but the entertainment, unfortunately, does not.

Like some real-life game nights, this movie drags on a little too long and, like some of the forced laughs heard in the audience at the premiere, it tries a little too hard to have fun. After the umpteenth major twist of the plot in the third act is followed by the umpteenth dead joke from one of the characters, it’s finally time to say enough.

With that said, Game Night does have its appeal. The sincerity and redeemable qualities of its characters save it from the aggravation of other dark comedies like Horrible Bosses (2011). The supporting roles from Jeffrey Wright as a fake FBI agent and Michael C. Hall (Dexter) as the criminal known as The Bulgarian are exceptional, as is the overall casting. Many of the jokes are witty and culturally relevant, though indeed others are overdone.

If you’re a middle-class suburban adult, or someone who doesn’t take anything seriously, you’ll probably love this movie. Either way, its impact won’t stay with you very far beyond the doors of the movie theater. Game Night won’t win any awards, nor will it leave a legacy of greatness, but it doesn’t need to. Despite its flaws, it certainly falls on the upper end of the spectrum of studio comedies, and if you have nothing else to do this weekend you might as well enjoy it.

Featured Image by Warner Bros. Pictures