“I’ve always enjoyed the camaraderie of good friends competing in games of chance and skill,” so states Gary (Jesse Plemons), the oft-ignored neighbor in the new comedy Game Night. The competition at the heart of this new film isn’t a traditional board game though. It’s a pre-planned murder mystery contest that gets hijacked by real criminals.
Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein quickly establish the characters in the film’s opening montage. Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) love to compete. They meet at a bar’s trivia night and fall in love. Their wedding reception even includes a competitive video game. Each week, the couple invites their friends over for a game night.
When Max’s cocky brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) returns to the area, he invites the usual game night participants over for a murder-mystery night. The goal is to solve a fake mystery but the night spirals out of control when a real kidnapping occurs.
The problem: None of the players realize that they aren’t playing a game anymore.
The set-up leads to the teams splitting up to solve the mystery. Max and Annie team up. The dimwitted Ryan (Billy Magnussen) partners up with his British co-worker Sarah (Sharon Horgan) while the charming Kevin (Lamorne Morris) teams up with his naive wife Michelle (Kylie Bunbury).
As the plot unfolds, each of the three couples faces their own set of trials and missteps but each of the different storylines offer their own unique comedic moments and jokes. This is indeed an ensemble comedy so each of the characters gets a chance for some great laughs. From Ryan’s hilarious one-liners (and Sarah’s great comebacks) to Kevin’s on-point Denzel Washington impression, the plot lets these actors embrace their strengths while moving the plot forward.
Game Night isn’t satisfied with a few standout moments though. The solid script keeps the jokes coming throughout the whole film and by relishing in small moments and funny dialogue rather than outlandish behavior, the jokes seldom feel forced.
Because of its solid pacing (which includes a few fast-paced sequences), the comedy never feels overzealous or too anxious for the laughs to arrive. The laughs do arrive and that’s thanks to the script and to the talented cast, who are committed to making the strong material stand out.
Plemons, as the neurotic neighbor, does excellent understated work here by over-articulating every word. The Friday Night Lights alum plays each of his awkward and somewhat-creepy lines straight, letting the audiences appreciate the uniqueness of his character.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is McAdams, who seems to relish her character’s outgoing personality. The actress isn’t known for her comedic chops but she’s incredible in this movie, filling her scenes with a manic delight and excitement. The rest of the cast does strong work as well, really rounding out this well-chosen ensemble.
Clocking in at only 100 minutes, Game Night is an endearing delight that has the right mix of twists and comedy to keep audiences intrigued and entertained. There are a few solid surprises near the end but it’s the characters that really make this film shine. Although some may be turned off by the profanity and some of the violence, Game Night packs a lot of fun and humor into its great premise.
For more film and television coverage, follow me on Twitter here.