Go back a couple of years to 2016, and the complicated, funny espionage story in “Keeping Up with the Joneses,” then go way back to 1972 and the outright daffiness of “What’s Up, Doc?” Mix them together, shake them up, and you’ll get an inkling of what the makers of “Game Night” were going after.
For the most part, they succeed. This is about gamers. No, not the kind that immediately comes to mind. There are no electronic diversions here. The games in “Game Night,” as well as the players, are old school. Three adult couples get together every week in the suburban home of Max and Annie (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams) to play board games, such as Taboo, or imagination-driven ones, such as charades. There used to be another couple, their next-door neighbors Gary (Jesse Plemons) and the wife who left him, but Gary has turned into a serious, humorless, empty shell of a man, and he’s no longer invited.
But the games go on as usual. Until the arrival of Max’s long-gone older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), a wealthy venture capitalist, and a full-of-himself charmer who has always made sure to beat Max at every game they played as kids. His arrival, in a cherry red Stingray, accompanied by his customary braggadocio, signals a change for those three couples. He announces that their next gathering will be at the fancy house he just rented, and will be “the game night to remember.”
He’s right about that, as there isn’t a board in sight, and the only hint the loudly jovial host gives is when he refers to the gathering as a murder mystery night that involves an abduction. Sure enough, shortly after everyone is seated, an FBI agent (Jeffrey Wright) knocks on the door and gives a dire warning about possible trouble, along with a dossier of “clues,” then there’s a commotion at the door, and a couple of thugs burst in, rough up the place, and take Brooks captive.
But things don’t go exactly as planned. They go awry, then they go extremely badly. Those weren’t hired actors who took Brooks, they were ... Sorry, that’s not going to be given away here.
The movie is a light and breezy, fast-paced comedy. But it goes through myriad changes. At the halfway point, it becomes an action film, then a mystery. For a short time, it switches to slapstick mode before going back to the mystery genre, all the while staying funny.
But in order to do that, the script does sometimes stretch itself to the limits. The three couples each have some difficulties going on, and that aspect of the story gets visited a few too many times. Max and Annie are experiencing some problems — maybe physical, maybe emotional — having a child. One of the other couples is wrapped up in some possible affairs, possibly committed by both members. The third is an ever-changing concern, since the guy is constantly dating new women, all of whom look alike. The actors take turns playing it over the top, but they calm down when things get serious, or about as serious as they can get in a comedy.
To keep everything moving at a breakneck pace, viewers get the treat of dealing with bullet wounds, car chases, very bad guys, a stolen Fabergé egg, and that lonely cop and his cute little dog. Though it clocks in at a brief 92 minutes, it feels a little longer because near the end, the equivalent of a kitchen sink of plot twists is thrown in. Thank goodness it all remains fun.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Mark Perez; directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
With Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons