Game Night (Warner Bros. Pictures, R)

G ame Night follows the highly competitive Max (Jason Bateman), who does not take losing easily, especially when it comes to simple everyday pastimes like Scrabble and Charades. His competitiveness is fueled by a longtime jealousy of the multi-million dollar success of his brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler).  During one public game night, Max meets his match in the equally competitive Annie (Rachel McAdams), and their attraction soon turns to marriage. Every week, Max and Annie host a game night with their friend Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and his girlfriend-of-the-week, the main one at this time being Sarah (Sharon Horgan), and married couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury). Someone not invited is their creepy, recently divorced, obsessive neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons). Brooks comes by to visit and participate in a few of the game nights, upsetting Max. In order to spice things up, Brooks arranges with a gaming company to hold a “murder mystery” game, where kidnappers will take one of them away and whoever wins gets Brooks new car. However, things take a turn when actual kidnappers come and take Brooks away. As the race to find him begins, the friends find their game night turning into a night to survive.

What makes Game Night such a pleasure is just how easily generic it could have been.  While directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein proved with Horrible Bosses that they could write raunchy material with wit, their later directorial and written efforts have been less than satisfying, which includes The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and the “reboot” of Vacation, both of which played it too safe. And while Game Night may delve into more generic territory with its story (script by Mark Perez) by taking on the most basic of action film tropes, it more than makes up with the laughs. Never overstaying its welcome (the film is at a breezy 100 minutes), Game Night’s surprising dark humor pulls some punches, and it has just enough self-awareness to never lose the audience.

Daley and Goldstein also show some impressive direction here, with a few scene transitions (one in particular that shows people falling then immediately transitions to a dice roll) and a chase through a never-ending maze of a mansion, filmed like a one-take show, showing welcome creativity. They may not be breaking boundaries, since with every eye-popping transition there is a rote set piece, but what is there shows a promising future for the duo.

A significant elevation comes from the well-assembled cast, who are fully present in every moment. Bateman’s droll delivery can make you bust a gut from laughing so much, and he is matched by the surprising but welcome comedic chops of the talented McAdams. Their comedic chemistry is on point, and their support group of friends, especially Magnussen, play perfect comedic foils. But every comedy has its MVP, and in this film, it’s Plemons. His delivery of this closeted psychotic whose mannerisms could send a chill down your spine is so pitch perfect and odd. He is a joy to watch.

Who knew this late February comedy could be such a crowd-pleaser? Strap in, because Game Night has actually made game night cool again. | Bill Loellke



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