Theatrical release poster
by Peter J. O'Connell
Game Night. Released: Feb. 2018. Runtime: 100 mins. MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual references, and some violence.
Game Night, co-directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein and written by Mark Perez, is about a night intended for fun and games that becomes a night of fright instead. But this clever movie makes that fright for the characters into fun for the audience.
Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are competitive gamers who meet during a trivia night at a bar, fall in love, and soon are married. The couple want to have a child, but that isn't happening, perhaps because Max feels stressed compared with his brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who claims to be a very attractive and successful Wall Street hotshot.
Max and Annie also are at pains to try to keep a somewhat creepy neighbor, Gary (Jesse Plemons), away from their game nights with friends. Gary is an awkward and humorless police officer, always in uniform, even at home, who stopped being regularly invited to game nights when his wife, a friend of Max and Annie's, divorced him.
Brooks has rented a really nice house while visiting and invites Max and Annie to come there for a game night with their friends, a married couple, Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), and a dating couple, Ryan (Kelly Magnusson) and Sarah (Sharon Horgan). Max and Annie are determined to beat Brooks at whatever games are played. A preliminary game involving admission of having had sex with a celebrity causes tension between Kevin and Michelle when Michelle is the only one to admit to such a situation, which Kevin never had been told about. But then Brooks announces that he has set up an interactive role-playing mystery game, with the winner to receive Brooks' Corvette Stingray.
At this point an actor—Jeffrey Wright is the actor playing the actor—playing an FBI agent arrives with “dossiers” that provide clues for solving a kidnapping. But suddenly two thugs enter, actually knock out the actor, and take Brooks away despite his fierce resistance. The three couples, believing that this is all just part of a realistic game, set out to try and retrieve Brooks.
Numerous mishaps and misadventures follow, including Max's getting a gunshot wound, and eventually the couples learn that the kidnapping was really for real. Brooks makes a startling admission about his involvement with a gangster called The Bulgarian (Michael C. Hall) and a rich man (Danny Huston), who runs a fight club in his mansion and owns a very special Faberge egg. The couples need to take control of the egg. Their efforts result in a brilliantly choreographed and edited sequence in which the couples toss the fragile egg back and forth while running through corridors and up and down stairs in an attempt to evade pursuing thugs. Eventually, Gary has to be brought into the action, and the mix of game with actuality becomes even more tricky.
Game Night's action is realistic, up to a point, but then its scary and suspenseful nature is transformed into dark comedy by deliciously droll dialogue and deliciously deadpan acting. McAdams is enormously appealing, as she usually is, and Jesse Plemons is a marvel in the way that he turns utter humorlessness into humor. By the way, you should stay completely through the ending credits of the film for two delightful surprises. One is in the middle of the run of credits. The even more delightful one is at the very end of the credits, all the credits, right to the screen's turning blank. Then comes the surprise!