Directed by: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
Premise: A competitive husband and wife (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams) and two other couples participate in a murder mystery game. But when actual criminals kidnap the host, everyone must put their game playing skills to practical use.
What Works: Game Night is an uneven effort but when it works the movie is very funny. A lot of the best moments occur between Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams who star as a married couple that are competitive about everything. These characters could be obnoxious but Bateman and McAdams are likable individually and especially as a couple. The actors bring an unapologetic ruthlessness and a lot of energy that carries the movie through its weaker stretches. The banter between the other couples is fun as well. Sharon Horgan and Billy Magnussen play a mismatched pair; he is a dumb jock while she is a bright and successful professional and they have an awkward rapport that is strange but enjoyable to watch. Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury are cast as a couple who have been together since their teen years and discover new things about each other that upset their relationship. Also notable is Jesse Plemons as a socially awkward neighbor and Plemons plays the role perfectly. The initial joke of Game Night is that the couples gather for a mockup murder mystery and are unwittingly plunged into a real one. The filmmakers don’t overplay the misunderstanding and about halfway through the story everyone realizes what’s actually going on. It’s a smart storytelling decision since the initial joke is too absurd to play out for the whole movie. Instead, the filmmakers open up the scope of the story while maintaining the game motif, working competitiveness and allusions to other games into the story. There are a number of great comic moments in Game Night and when it finds its tone and rhythm the movie is very funny.
What Doesn’t: The story of Game Night gets convoluted. The characters go from one place to another without a lot of motivation and arrive at unsupported conclusions. The filmmakers exacerbate this by constantly throwing curveball reveals and reversals that unravel the tender logic of the story. This is an example of filmmakers trying to outsmart the audience and creating something stupid instead. The pacing of the movie is off. It occasionally slows down or gets into relationship issues between the couple that seem out of place. The ticking-clock plot device ought to hasten the pace and escalate the stakes but the haphazard nature of the story keeps the movie from accomplishing that. Game Night also suffers from bad editing. The car chases in particular are poorly done with the action of one shot unrelated to the next.
Bottom Line: Game Night is an uneven movie but it succeeds often enough to merit a recommendation. This story is wobbly but the actors carry the movie and make it enjoyable.
Episode: #688 (March 4, 2018)