From the writers and directors of the slapstick comedy “Vacation,” comes another ridiculous film in the vein of Steve Carell/Tina Fey’s “Date Night.” Misunderstanding is the backbone of modern day comedies. Jason Bateman himself is the king of that very concept. “Game Night” embraces its own ridiculousness by discussing Liam Neeson action films, calling out superhero movies, even featuring Denzel Washington impersonations. “Game Night” wants to be “Get Out” by attempting a kaleidoscope of genres, but it simply doesn’t have the intelligence or nuance. It’s embarrassing to see Oscar-nominated Rachel McAdams follow up “Spotlight” with a role that’s equivalent to a sitcom part.
Game nights are a ritual for Annie (McAdams) and husband Max (Bateman). Their entire lives are measured by the success of their wins. Infertility issues stem from Max’s competitive nature with his brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), going all the way back to their childhood. An attempt to try something new, game night is held at Brooks’ new house, where he has something entirely new in store for the crew. It begins as a prepaid and organized murder mystery, complete with actors breaking into the home. When Brooks is dragged out of the home, the players begin to understand something isn’t quite right. Annie and Max, along with their friends, are so caught up in the realistic game, they don’t realize they have inserted them into a dangerous situation until it’s too late.
If “Game Night” could remain within the realm of possibility, where it begins, it would be a heck of a lot funnier. However, when people start getting sucked into airplane engines, and the script overuses the “no just kidding” element more than three times, the fun is obliterated. In one scene McAdams’ character invites her brother-in-law Brooks, to tell an embarrassing childhood story about her husband. Within five minutes of screen time, she can’t believe Brooks would belittle Max in that way. The character development and script continuity are often invalidated for cheap laughs. The punch line of the film, the fact the game isn’t really a game, is given away in the trailer. However, it’s such an anti-climactic moment when the characters finally figure this out, because the audience has known the entire time.
Like most comedies, they start with one clever idea, yet can’t figure out how to rally that into a full-length feature. The filmmaker’s previous movie “Vacation” is another example, as well as “Horrible Bosses” and sequels. “Game Night” quickly becomes tedious in it’s repetition. On the plus side, it’s aware of diversity in it’s casting. Like other John Francis Daley/Jonathan Goldstein comedies, they do tend give the female actors almost equal screen time and involvement. Jesse Plemons (“Hostiles,” “The Post”) has proved interchangeable between drama and comedy characters. He is one of this movie’s few highlights.
Final Thought — Establishes one good idea filmmakers can’t foster into a full-length feature.