Game Night is an adult action-comedy that has some really, really funny moments surrounded by moments where the timing was off or the tone just did not fit. The story is clever, the cast is good and there are some great lines. I laughed a lot, yet in the end, I felt mildly disappointed. It feels like the screenplay was one more rewrite away from being a great comedy.
Max (Jason Bateman, from Arrested Development along with many other recent comedies) and Annie (Rachel McAdams, a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee in 2016 for Spotlight) are a very competitive couple. They met during a bar trivia contest and host a weekly game night with their friends. They are also trying to have a baby, but Max’s stress, specifically in relation to his more impressive brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler, not known for comedy, but pretty funny here) has prevented them from conceiving. Brooks returns to town after a year away and offers to host game night one week. Instead of playing a board game he has hired a company to devise a murder mystery for them to solve. But things do not go as planned when a couple of gunmen show up and kidnap Brooks for real.
There are two different styles of humor on display in Game Night (92 minutes plus some stuff at the beginning of the end credits and a post credits scene): there are character based jokes and plot based jokes. The character based jokes (ones where the comedy comes from the personality of the characters) are generally the funnier ones, especially when they come from the funnier characters (mainly Max and Annie). The plot based jokes (ones that come from the situation) are more hit and miss, but a few of them are pretty funny.
Unfortunately, there are two major scenes that just do not work and both of them are plot based. One of them involves a do-it-yourself surgery and the other revolves around a dog and some blood. Both scenes just kind of end without a payoff, though the surgery scene includes a couple of funny lines. Both of those scenes try for situational humor and they both fall flat. There are a couple of smaller scenes with the same problem, as well. Every time the movie begins to build momentum, there is something that causes it to hit the brakes. This prevents Game Night from really hitting the altitudes it seems like it should have.
The cast is full of talented people. Bateman and McAdams are quite funny as the leads, but they get good support. As the other players, Lamorne Morris (New Girl) and Kylie Bunbury (star of the short-lived Fox series Pitch) are amusing, but do not get a lot to do. Billy Magnusson (from last year’s Ingrid Goes West) has his moments as a dumb ladies’ man (though, there are some moments where he is so dumb that it hurts the joke). British actress Sharon Horgan, as the ringer he brings to the latest game night, is understated and has several good lines. Chandler is amusing as the brother.
But some of the biggest laughs come from Jesse Plemons (who was seen last year in supporting roles in American Made, Hostiles and The Post) as Gary, Max and Annie’s creepy police officer neighbor. His awkward timing is consistently hilarious. His screen time is the perfect amount. Due to the odd nature of his character, there could have been a risk of him wearing out his welcome if he was used too much. But they found the perfect balance and Plemons steals every scene he is in.
Game Night is an uneven comedy where the good outweighs the bad. I laughed as hard at this movie as I have at any movie in recent memory, but there is still something missing. There was no consistency from scene to scene. I want to be clear that I did like it. Just not as much as I felt like I should have considering how much I laughed. There are a lot of funny things in the movie and they add up to a good comedy instead of the great one that is buried somewhere inside.
3½ out of 5
Jason Bateman as Max
Rachel McAdams as Annie
Kyle Chandler as Brooks
Billy Magnussen as Ryan
Sharon Horgan as Sarah
Lamorne Morris as Kevin
Kylie Bunbury as Michelle
Jesse Plemons as Gary
Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
Written by Mark Perez