Game Night is certainly better and more enjoyable than it has any right to be. I fully expected to walk into a movie where I had already experienced the best, funniest moments to be had, since I’d already seen the trailers and teasers. Sure, they’d made me laugh and all, but I figured there weren’t going to be many surprises left for the actual movie.
In such cases, I’m always pleased to be wrong. Game Night actually has some truly excellent writing and a very capable cast which makes its characters feel like people, rather than cliches imparting the same old lessons about family and all the middles that practically every comedy focuses on. You know the ones: middle age, middle class, and a middle life in general, one that satisfies all our needs while always leaving us yearning for more.
It helps that the couple which is the emotional center is worth getting invested in. Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) meet at a trivia night and bond over their shared love of games and competition, then marry in a truly hilarious, heartfelt montage during the movie’s first few minutes. In lesser hands this would be pretentious and annoying, but here it’s quirky and endearing, bolstered by the easy charm and chemistry between McAdams and Bateman.
Unfortunately, they’ve hit a bit of a stumbling block in the fact that they seem unable to conceive, which only serves to further exaggerate Max’s insecurities, especially when his far wealthier older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) joins them for the titular evening with their friends. It’s soon pointed out how he undermines Max every chance he gets, especially when he realizes that the game will involve one of them being kidnapped, with the prize for the couple who rescues them just happening to be Max’s dream car. That Brooks owns.
What seems like a game is revealed to be something far more dangerous, one in which the lives of all the players are actually on the line. It’s a real tribute to the skill involved in how Game Night unfolds that even when things become clear, there are still a few surprises in store, even if some are less enjoyable than others. Along with the dark humor that’s used to maximum effect, the other couples have their own arcs that also unfold hilariously as the night progresses, along with Jesse Plemons as a weird cop who has been excluded from Max and Annie’s circle.
If the movie does sag, it’s at the end, where Game Night insists on adding one more twist that’s one too many in a movie already full of them. But even in a final face-off that smells of studio interference, there are plenty of enjoyable gags and instances of the razor sharp playfulness that defined everything that came before. And in the aftermath is a refreshing return to business as usual, with the kind of sequel baiting that results in speculation rather than resignation. If only every comedy was as capable of hitting as many marks as Game Night, sequel wouldn’t be such a dirty word.