GAME NIGHT

Just like anybody else on the planet, my sense of humor is incredibly specific. I’m not really sure what I find funny exactly, but if I laugh, I laugh. For instance, broad, over the top comedies where the characters find themselves in increasingly precarious situations aren’t really for me, but there are some exceptions. Pineapple Express goes completely nuts and that’s my favorite comedy of all time. As long as all of the necessary ingredients are there, such as the cast having great chemistry, the dialogue being witty, the timing being on point, and of course, jokes, then I should have a fun time. 
 
Max Davis (Jason Bateman) and his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams) are a married couple struggling to conceive a child. A main reason for that struggle is due to Max’s feeling of inadequacy compared to his brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler). Max and Annie are also avid board gamers, hosting a weekly Game Night with their friends. One week, Brooks offers to host a Game Night at his place, but this isn’t any ordinary game. This is a game where Brooks gets “kidnapped” and the rest of the gang has to follow his clues to find him. Unfortunately, Brooks is also involved in some criminal activity, which leads to him getting kidnapped for real and put into actual life-threatening danger. It’s now up to Max, Annie, and their friends to navigate the scummy criminal underworld in order to save Brooks’ life. 
 
The biggest reason why such high stakes comedy doesn’t really work for me is that when characters constantly crack jokes during sometimes life-threatening situations, it rings hollow for me in both ways. They’re not taking the situation seriously, so it’s hard to care about the danger. Since there’s danger, the attempts at comedy come off as trying too hard. These moments can work, but they need to be logical extensions of the characters, which is why Game Night works so well. Since Max, Annie, and their friends are so sheltered and milquetoast, a lot of their reactions make sense, especially since they think it’s all fake in the beginning. These scenarios make for a lot of surprisingly dark, yet humorous, moments, such as ignorantly pointing a loaded gun at somebody, or an adorable white dog being soaked in blood. The ending did get a little too ridiculous for me where it was straining credibility even for this film’s sake. Most of it surprisingly worked for me, though. 
 
It’s not all crass offensiveness, as the filmmakers definitely had their hearts in the right place. There’s some decent character work, all of it stemming from Max’s relationship with Brooks. Aside from not looking alike in the slightest, it’s a very genuine brotherly dynamic they share, where they get on each other’s nerves, but clearly love each other and will help out when needed. This also plays in Max’s relationship with Annie, as his relationship with Brooks clearly affect their relationship, down to them having trouble conceiving. All three cast members are outstanding, with believable chemistry where they all play off each other’s personalities well. Jason Bateman is your typical straight man here, but I was happy to see Chandler and McAdams dig into their comic sensibilities. McAdams was surprisingly hilarious, mostly because she plays a naivety to perfection. Jesse Plemons is the other standout star, with pretty much all of the funniest scenes involving him. As seen in Breaking Bad, he can play the kind of creepy that can actually unsettle you, but here, he shows he can also play the kind of creepy that can make you laugh. The rest of the characters aren’t anywhere near as amusing, but the main ones do what they need to do: carry the movie. 
 
There’s some surprising visual flair to be enjoyed too. Comedies are usually bottom of the barrel in the cinematography department, but directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein along with cinematographer Barry Peterson inject a lot of visual excitement. They clearly had a lot of fun with the board game premise, employing tilt shift photography in a lot of their establishing shots, giving off the perspective of our characters being pieces on a board game. There’s a fantastic tracking shot that follows our characters all over a mansion as they play hot potato with an item, as well as a neat use of motion stabilization to heighten the intensity of a door knob being turned. Since this is a more action driven film, it gave them an easy method to be more creative than normal, but the fact that they still cared enough to give a comedy some visual flavor is respectable. They didn’t want to just make us laugh, but also make an actual movie with some style and excitement to it. 
 
With such an outlandish premise, it’s surprising Game Night works as well as it does. It’s certainly propped up by the committed cast, clever and dark gags, and visuals, but like any comedy like this, it gets a little too silly and runs a little too long. All the right stuff was there, though. While these comedies aren’t really for me, if you have the right kind of ingredients, you could end up with something delicious, or at least pretty good. 
 
7/10

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