REVIEW: Game Night (2018)

Theatrical Release Poster – Warner Bros. Pictures

The following is a review of Game Night — Directed by John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein.

The creative duo of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s second directorial feature film Game Night is a black comedy about a highly competitive married couple — Max (played by Jason Bateman) and Annie (played by Rachel McAdams) — who first met when they were up against each other in a trivia contest. They are avid fans of party games, and they regularly host these game nights with their closest friends where they play games such as Jenga, pictionary, and Taboo.

Max, however, is also haunted by some sibling issues. Max’s brother Brooks (played by Kyle Chandler) is successful and confident, and he likes to rub Max’s nose in his successes. So when Brooks invites the game night friend group over to his house for ‘a night to remember,’ Max and Annie decide that they have to beat him at his own game. They have to win it all and they have to do it in such a way that it makes Brooks look bad.

But Brooks has prepared something quite elaborate for the competitive friend group. When they all arrive at his place, he announces that they are going to be taking part in an elaborate murder mystery party game with multiple trained actors. So when real life criminals then break into Brooks’ house, knock out a trained actor, and kidnap Brooks, then Max, Annie, and the rest of the group still believe they are a part of a party game, thus leading them into potentially life-threatening situations.

It was a smart move for Warner Bros. to make the note on the film’s poster that Daley and Goldstein co-wrote Horrible Bosses. Daley and Goldstein also, of course, co-wrote the successful Marvel Studios and Sony collaboration project that was Spider-Man: Homecoming, which is easily my favorite film that they have worked on.

However, Daley and Goldstein’s reputation as directors is not as rock solid as the paragraph above might’ve led you to believe. Daley and Goldstein’s feature film directorial debut was the immature but serviceable 2015 reboot of the Vacation-franchise, which was panned by most critics. I think for a lot of people the fact that Daley and Goldstein were behind that reboot meant that they were cautious about Game Night. If you were ever unsure or worried about this film, then know this Game Night is one of the strongest American comedies in years.

It features a strong comedic ensemble cast with relative newcomers such as Billy Magnussen, as well as seasoned veterans like Jason Bateman. Magnussen, actually, is one of the highlights of the film. Magnussen, who looks like some kind of Prince Charming, plays the male version of the blonde stereotype, and it is such a joy to watch him with his date played by Sharon Horgan.

Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury’s characters, who have been together since they were kids, are fun to watch as well, as a fun little game of ‘never have I ever’ brings out some long-held secrets about that time they were ‘on a break.’ It isn’t exactly an original subplot, but it is executed very well. Which reminds me — be sure to stick around after the credits for a good final joke.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, of course, are the two leads in the film, and they work well together. I haven’t seen Bateman this good since, maybe, the days when he was the star of Arrested Development. The standout performance in the film is, however, the memorable performance delivered by the great Jesse Plemons, who you might know from Breaking Bad, FX’s Fargo, or the excellent Black Mirror episode “USS Callister.”

Plemons plays Max and Annie’s neighbor, who has been ostracized from the party game friend group after his wife left him. Plemons’ character is this creepy cop who is so desperate to attend another game night, and he is absolutely hilarious in that his off-putting lonely attitude is perfect for the comedic cast to play against.

To be honest with you, all of the humor hit for me. There are some really fun movie references. Mind you, they aren’t true tough cinephile trivia references, but they are fun small movie callouts that managed to really put a smile on my face time and time again. The only minor issue that I have with the film is that the final third of the film becomes perhaps a little bit longwinded. The jokes that appear in that final act are still solid, which prevents the film from going stale, but the truth is that there are too many twists in the plot that becomes more and more implausible.

All in all, Game Night is a terrific high-concept comedy that is also a good mixture of tones. One should make note of the score that manages to make this seem like a thriller, while the comedy is still strong and never outdone. It all works so well. This was a lovely little surprise from a directors team that have, frankly outdone themselves. Game Night is one of the more consistently funny and charming American comedies that I have seen in years.

8.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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