“Game Night” Movie Review

As a really competitive person who likes to play board games with others every now and then, this movie resonated with me WAY more than I anticipated. Produced on a budget of $37 million, this comedy thriller was released worldwide on February 23rd, 2018. Since then, it has grossed over $85 million at the box office, boosted up thanks to a surprisingly positive critical reception. Directed by John Francis Dailey Jonathan M. Goldstein, the film is their second feature-length picture together. Following the disastrous reception of the 2015 reboot of Vacation, they apparently set out to make a name for themselves by adopting their own brand. And now, they’re going to be directing The Flash movie for the DC Extended Universe. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star as Max and Annie, a super competitive couple who like to get all of their rages out by playing a variety of games with their friends. On one of their game nights, Max’s successful older brother Brook, played by Kyle Chandler, comes to town and presents his own game for them to play. What starts out as a fake, hyper-real murder mystery soon gets Max, Annie, and all of their friends wrangled into an actual kidnapping case. With little clue as to what’s real and what’s fiction, they must go forth to solve the caper- and hopefully get whatever prize comes at the end. It’s always interesting fare when someone wants to make a blend of different, almost dichotomous genres. In this case, comedy and thriller are two that one would never imagine going hand-in-hand. And more often than not, it’s the type of hybrid that almost never works well. This is just one of the things that had me somewhat worried about Game Night, not to mention the severe lack in genuinely good comedies in the last few years. Frances Dailey and Goldenstein are guilty of this with their extremely lackluster Vacation from 2015. And as two of the six screenwriters for Spider-Man: Homecoming last year, the duo still have a lot to prove for themselves. Thankfully, their second outing is a knock-out on nearly all levels. As sustained and confident as their direction really is, the true star here is the screenplay by Mark Perez. Whereas many “comedies” throw as much raunch and vulgarity on the screen as possible to elicit laughter, he manages to craft an original plot with expertly delivered dialogue. Not too mean-spirited but also not clean, there’s a bevy of pop culture references to sink your teeth into that make the film feel a little more grounded in reality. In some ways, it’s almost like a Quentin Tarantino script because more than one instance of humor involves a shock factor such as unexpected violence or characters suddenly talking over each other. At points, it feels like it does too much and gets a little too indulgent on its crime elements. The plot is very tight and intricate, with loads of unpredictable twists coming in left and right. But it feels like there were too many twists for its own good, and becomes convoluted by the end. For the most part, though, it keeps to its structure and pacing. And thankfully, the entire cast gives it their all, allowing an otherwise serious setting to be undercut by unexpected twists. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are hilariously terrific as Max and Annie. Where other actors may just come off as annoying in the roles, these two give their characters a bit of extra depth. Quite a bit of room is given to improvise, so we can see their extremely competitive nature juxtapose their apparent want for a more “normal” lifestyle. Kyle Chandler gets a rare chance to shine as the over-accomplished brother, who appropriately ridiculous the entire night. Their friends are played by Sharon Horgan, Kylie Bunbury, LaMorne Morris, and a breakout Billy Magnussen all confused in the ridiculousness of their situation. A drawn out scene of Magnussen slowly sliding dollar bills across a wooden table had my entire theater roaring with laughter. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jesse Plemons as the neighbor Gary. Similar to his other roles, Plemons plays him like a total creep, which allows for some deadpan delivery of idiosyncratic dialogue. Meanwhile, on a technical scale, Francis Dailey and Goldenstein have put a ton of effort into keeping Game Night distinct. Shot by comedy veteran Barry Peterson, the film is given a very dirty and grunge-like style thanks in large part to its use of the widescreen format. Steady shots in the city nighttime and fluid camera movements make it feel modern and really cinematic. Also worth noting is the equally fluid editing by Jamie Gross, Gregory Plotkin, and David Egan. The opening sequence is masterfully cut together between a variety of imagery as well as party games, helping to establish the passage of time. One scene in the second act sees numerous shots edited together and manipulated to look like one continuous shot. This can seem a little bit indulgent, but it honestly did help keep the flow if the movie smooth and nice. It becomes apparent that so much effort and intelligence and craft went into every scene. That level of craft extends to Cliff Martinez, who composes the film’s unique musical score. Like much of his other work, this soundtrack is primarily made up of melodies on synthesizers as well as subtle, more percussive elements. The dark overtones and intense chasing tracks definitely provide with a 21st century feel that’s hard to find. In some ways, it reminded me of last year’s Blade Runner 2049 in how it perfectly fit the dark and grimy world of the film. I’ve been listening to it on YouTube since i got home from the theater and I do intend on picking up on iTunes soon. Far better and more entertaining than I had been expecting and loaded with a bevy of surprises, Game Night is a chaotic, sharply written thriller with some comedic edge. Packed with rounds of gut-bursting humor and hilarious performances from a committed cast, there’s plenty to find and enjoy here, especially if you watch it in a packed theater. Although its rewatchability is admittedly questionable, I can’t deny the fun it gives on the first go-around. Game Night might be the biggest cinematic surprise of the year for me.

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1 thought on ““Game Night” Movie Review

  1. Pingback: Retrospective: The 20 Best Films of 2018 | Geek's Landing

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