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Review: Winning comedy-thriller Game Night more than trivial pursuits

PUBLISHED: 08:46 02 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:08 02 March 2018

Jason Bateman as Max and Rachel McAdams as Annie in Game Night. Photo: Warner Bros

Jason Bateman as Max and Rachel McAdams as Annie in Game Night. Photo: Warner Bros

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Trivial pursuits escalate into life-or-death gambles in madcap murder mystery set in sleepy American suburbia, where middle-class couples see their love of board games take a sinister turn.

Jason Bateman as Max, Rachel McAdams as Annie and Kyle Chandler as Brooks in Game Night. Photo: Warner BrosJason Bateman as Max, Rachel McAdams as Annie and Kyle Chandler as Brooks in Game Night. Photo: Warner Bros

Game Night (15)

***

It’s a close run thing but I suspect my most objectionable experience in the cinema was The Game, the late 1990s thriller. Millionaire Michael Douglas gets the gift of a role-playing game from his brother Sean Penn, and then has his life be torn apart and is nearly killed only for — spoiler — it to be revealed that it really had all been a big game, done to teach him a lesson about the value of life.

The pathetic lame betrayal of that ending would have been gut-wrenching even if it hadn’t been David Fincher’s follow up to Seven.

Now though there is some small measure of restitution in Game Night, a comedy in which a role-playing kidnap detective game becomes real when the victim is genuinely kidnapped, while the friends still think it is a game.

Billy Magnussen as Ryan in Game Night. Photo: Warner BrosBilly Magnussen as Ryan in Game Night. Photo: Warner Bros

Max (Jason Bateman) and his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams) are board game fiends who host regular game nights for their friends, including married couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) and dim-witted pal Ryan (Billy Magnussen).

Max’s flashy older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) returns unexpectedly and offers to host the next game night. “Someone in this room is going to be taken,” he teases.

Sure enough, an actor posing as an FBI agent arrives at the front door with cryptic clues, followed by two masked men, who snatch Brooks.

There is a certain irony in casting Bateman (a performer born for the Michael Rodd role in Tomorrow’s World: The Motion Picture) as an ultra-competitive, sore loser, compulsive game player because I doubt he’s ever been the first choice for any role.

He’s funny but in an apologetic, reserved way; even when he’s playing neurotics he is so smooth your eyes can kind of glide past him. Here though with McAdams, as the equally competitive compulsive game player, they are an inspired pairing.

Jason Bateman as Max, Kyle Chandler as Brooks and Lamorne Morris as Kevin in Game Night. Photo: Warner Bros.Jason Bateman as Max, Kyle Chandler as Brooks and Lamorne Morris as Kevin in Game Night. Photo: Warner Bros.

The film itself is not much more than alright, a little bit too frantic for its own good, but when it is funny the laughs are big and the performers are engaging.

There’s probably a bit too much plot but in an age when comedy performers often just want to turn up and wing it, maybe we should appreciate a comedy where somebody has bothered to sit down beforehand and work out what will happen.

The oddest thing about the film is its cameos. Danny Huston and Michael C. Hall turn up in small but significant roles. The odd one, the one that had me wondering if I was seeing things, is Jeffrey Wright. This very fine movie actor, the Felix Leiter to Daniel Craig’s Bond, turns up uncredited in a minor role that is pure plot device, delivers some dull exposition dialogue, before being boffed on the head and forgotten about. Didn’t anyone recognise him?


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