MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action Comedy/Stars: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Kyle Chandler, Chelsea Peretti, Danny Huston, Michael C. Hall, Jeffrey Wright/Runtime: 100 minutes
I think it is safe to say that if an entry in the comedy genre of movie magic wants to be one that becomes truly iconic to say nothing of memorable a’la Stripes, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Airplane!, or even Beverly Hills Cop then the first thing that it needs is both a novel take on a time honored concept, but also a title of two words or less. Hence if you have Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, and Kristen Bell cutting loose from their parental responsibilities and just living life on their terms then you can say that this trio are some seriously bad moms. By the same token if you have a group of 4 high school boys trying to lose their virginity then time to order them up some American Pie. Also if Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, and Queen Latifah decide to go on vacation together then what you have is a truly funny girls’ trip in the making. Of course, there is one other thing you need to go with the aforementioned ingredients. That of course would be *duh* jokes that are legitimately funny. Failure in that department might result in Robert DeNiro being labeled a dirty grandpa or part of the little fockers again and trust me when I say no one wants that. Suffice it to say if you can find a novel approach to a concept that is also fairly understandable as well as one where a movie goer can be amused and entertained in equal measure then your film is both ahead of the competition and also has greater odds at working its magic on both the movie reviewing community to say nothing of the casual movie goer. The reason I bring this up to you dear reader is because I feel the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today, 2018’s Game Night is one that fits those criteria to a t. By that I mean here is a movie that deals with the key narrative idea of a group of friends who take part in a weekly game night and then throws in some delightfully intriguing yet realistic curves and twists in order to keep you both intrigued as to where this is all going and engaged all the same. Suffice it to say it might be an equal mix of lively and extremely funny yet also with a dash of surprising darkness to it, but there is no denying that Game Night is a delightful surprise that gives you exactly what you want it to while also proving to be a wonderful showcase for its talent that it has assembled both behind and especially in front of the camera as well.
The plot is as follows: Game Night gets the dice rolling on its narrative as we witness a classic case of that time-honored concept known as love at first sight occurring. In the case of this movie, it is between a pair of more than just a wee bit in terms of competitiveness game aficionados by the name of Max and Annie when their respective teams clash horns a bar trivia competition. Of course it should come as no surprise to learn that the two wind up getting together and hosting their own game nights. Game nights incidentally which are an absolute delight for not only our main couple, but also their close friends who have become key fixtures in their lives including their equal parts constant bachelor as well as slightly moronic buddy Ryan as well as fellow married couple (though not without their own issues) Kevin and Michelle. Yet as lively as their game nights have been, we see that things take a turn for the intriguing when Max’s seemingly better in nearly every way to say nothing of more than just a wee bit arrogant older sibling Brooks comes to visit and, much to Max’s immense and fairly envious dismay, decides to shanghai the next week’s game night and host it at his luxurious estate that he is renting while in town with the promise of a game night that will be one to remember. Upon arrival to Brooks’ home, we see that our group (along with Ryan’s date for the night Sarah) discover that Brooks has retained the services of a top-notch organization that puts together murder mystery parties in order to engage in both one of the guests being taken as well as setting up an extremely well-thought out Amazing Race-style clue pursuit that the first team to get to the end of and discover the location of the victim will be rewarded with the keys to Brooks’ fancy new car (oh and the car too. Mustn’t forget that part.) Yet when the game gets started, we see that things take a turn when actual criminals deciding to not only show up to the event uninvited (how rude), but also proceed to beat up and then kidnap a scared out of his mind Brooks. Thus it is now up to this group of friends to come together and get to the bottom of a situation that may have started out as just another game night, but which might actually be a legitimately serious situation with genuine bad guys and actual stakes that sound nothing like “go back 5 spaces” or “give the other player next to you 200 dollars”.
Now I’m not gonna lie to you movie goer: if any of the aforementioned plot to this slice of cinema gives off the vibe to you that this could easily transform into a slice of cinema helmed by David Fincher at one time known as The Game I can honestly say I don’t blame you for thinking that. This is because not only is that what I’m pretty sure the creative team behind this was aiming for, but also because that’s exactly what I was thinking whilst watching this too. Actually, it should be said now that the creative team behind the camera decided to take out on long-term loan other components besides the twists and curveballs the aforementioned slice of cinema possessed. What I mean by that is the creative team behind the camera on this slice of cinema actually do a wonderful job of actually making this film, on a style level, actually look like a thriller that Fincher would be at the helm of. This is best showcased by the fact that the work from the cinematography department in, like Fincher, making the creative choice to not only shoot this film in Fincher’s distinct computer-generated shades of hazel whilst also utilizing a pretty significant amount of camera shots that are absolutely incredibly done. Indeed it is not that often here lately that we as movie goers get to see an entry in the comedy genre where we observe just how skilled the camerawork is, but for this film it is wonderfully on point. Indeed perhaps the best example of this is a scene where the camera swiftly makes its way through a lovely house as our group of heroes engage in a game of Keep Away with the MacGuffin of the film with each other. Yes you can tell that, again in the same vein as Fincher, there is digital magic integrated incredibly well into this scene, but praise should still be given for how swiftly the camera is able to move about whilst still being able to keep an eagle eyed clarity and focus on everything that is going on. At the same time, we also get to see this slice of cinema utilize a fairly novel visual effects trick that sees any vehicles as well as buildings appear to resemble pieces on a board game when viewed from a certain perspective during the course of the film. Not content with just those distinct examples of nifty and ingenious visual effects work however, we soon see that the creative team behind the camera also do a wonderful job of lovingly poaching from other works such as 2017’s Baby Driver in order to assist them in making sure that this slice of cinema is able to be a wonderful mix of both lively as well as dynamic respectively. I mean there is an action beat in this film that really does an effective job of imitating one that was done in only one take and yet it does so well that the points where this beat was edited don’t really disrupt the flow of it at all. Yet this is all well and good you might be saying, but I think what you really want to know at some point in this section (given that this slice of cinema IS an entry in the comedy genre after all) is will this movie make you laugh or is this about the point in the review where you should stop reading and instead start looking for your closest emergency exit right about now? Thankfully, I can safely tell you that not only is this movie extremely amusing, but it is also one that is able to retain an almost magical balancing act in its utilization of shock comedy, gallows humor, and just plain delightful zaniness. Yes each of you may have a differing level of individual enjoyment with this film with respect to the amount of absurdity it chooses to take part in. In all fairness though at least this slice of cinema doesn’t ever resort to jokes that will make you sigh with how idiotic they are, risqué humor that reeks of cliché, and/or even moments where the characters are just allowed to cut loose and just go on an improvised tangent at some point. Yes there are movies where those three styles are used to brilliant effect, but this film definitely is not one of those films so hats off to the creative minds behind it for making sure to not incorporate those into the creative framework of the film.
Of course, the work done behind the camera may be truly phenomenal, but I can safely say that the work done in front of the camera is just as good if not better. I say that because every single person in this film is absolutely hilarious whilst also fitting into the world of the film perfectly. More than that however is the fact that everyone in this film not only is fully aware of the type of film they are making, but that everyone involved in front of the camera all work as a team to make sure that every performance, no matter how big or small, is just as funny as everyone else. This starts with, in arguably one of the co-lead roles, Justin Bateman and yes I am aware he is doing his typical sarcastic shtick here, but he is also on-point with it here as well and as such he did manage to get quite a few laughs out of me as the film went on. The other co-lead in this Rachel McAdams as Max’s wife Annie and while I do appreciate a lot of the other roles McAdams has played in her career I do have to ask: can we please get some more comedy roles for this woman please? I say that because McAdams is a genuine delight in this as a character who is a wonderful mix of brilliant, intuitive, open to being as zany as possible, and a wonderful degree of warm and friendly to boot. On top of all that, she and Bateman have such a terrific chemistry with one another that I genuinely can buy them as a couple. We also get wonderful work in this from Billy Magnussen who does a terrific job at playing a guy who’s likable yet also very much a few beers short of a 6-pack, Kyle Chandler even though his role in this is one that you can easily see the arc for a mile away, and Morris and Bunbury who, in their roles of fellow couple Kevin and Michelle, are dealing with a puzzler of their own that the resolution to is one of the more delightful laughs in the film. Without a doubt though, the biggest delight in terms of the casting has to be Jesse Plemons in the role of extremely odd next-door neighbor Gary who seemingly can’t go anywhere without either wearing his law enforcement uniform or stroking his white-haired dog in a manner that would unnerve both Hannibal Lecter and Blofeld in equal measure. Indeed Plemons does a wonderful job of blending together a genuinely comedic deadpan delivery alongside a stare that is equally as comedic as it is chilling.
All in all with how often we as movie goers get movies that seem to be made on an assembly line, it really is a wonderful blessing whenever we are given a slice of cinema that proves to be either novel, not quite what you are expecting it to be, or both. Suffice it to say that Game Night is most assuredly one of those slices of cinema. No this film won’t be one that the Academy Awards chooses to place on its nomination list for a Best Picture contender, but a bad slice of cinema that most assuredly does not by any means make this. Not by a long shot. Indeed the cast is terrific, the work done behind the camera by the various departments is brilliantly on-point, and the end result is an engaging and highly amusing slice of cinema that will leave you with a smile on your face from beginning to end. Make of that dear reader what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give Game Night “2018” a solid 4 out of 5.