An opening meet cute and whirlwind romance montage clue us all into the extracurricular leanings of Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), a pair of overwhelmingly competitive gamers whose attempts to outdo each other lead, quite reasonably, to a marriage and the creation of the world’s most ferociously competitive couple.
They settle into a life of suburban, bourgeois domesticity, punctuated by their weekly game nights with friends and, as an unexpected one-off, Max’s infinitely more successful older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) who crashes the evening of fun. He brings with him much disorder as he informs them that he has arranged for one individual to be “kidnapped” by an aggressive role-playing company, meaning that the other couples must engage in a sophisticated city-wide treasure hunt to find the victim. When a bunch of heavies shows up to bundle Brooks into the back of a van, Max, and Annie, along with their four friends, pair off on what they think is part of the game, unaware that the kidnappers are genuine criminals carrying out a real-life kidnapping.
It’s a great premise that is solid, if not spectacularly realised. Most of the enjoyment comes from the toing-and-froing of the script as Max, Annie and the other hapless competitors’ race around in a deluded state of excitement, interacting with hardened thugs and genuinely dangerous gangsters with a misguided sense of security. The script bowls a few red herrings and takes some delight in whipping the rug out from under the feet of its characters and the audience, revealing additional layers of deception as the “game” unfolds.
As welcome as this breezy approach to deception is, Game Night clearly prides itself on its anarchic sense of humour more than it does its pleasingly woven net of narrative misdirection. This is a problem, or at least a shame, for me as I fundamentally found it lacking in the laugh department. The sight of Bateman and McAdams blundering into a life-threatening dive bar standoff with a wholly undeserved feeling of laissez-faire bluster is fun, but the script rarely follows its tickling body punch with a knockout gag. I found myself yearning for the awkward drama of something like Funny Games or the runaway sense of mania in something like E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills, a movie that shares some narrative similarities with Game Night.
Ultimately, despite a decent set-up and an intriguingly realised tale of deception,you’re left feeling that all this running and flapping around would be more enjoyable if the movie had the guts to be genuinely raucous and let its slightly muted sense of humour blossom into something a bit more enjoyably nasty.
Chris Banks | [rating=3]
Comedy, Mystery | USA, 2018 | 15| 2nd March 2018 (UK)| Warner Bros. |Dir.John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein | Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Jesse Plemons, Kyle Chandler