We will take extra care here not to reveal any of the nifty little plot tricks executed by the makers of “Game Night,” but I will say this:
Like that very funny but sometimes exhausting friend who is in the kitchen making himself one more drink while you’re saying goodnight to everyone else as they leave the party, “Game Night” overstays its welcome by just a scooch.
Still, there are more than enough laughs and clever surprises in this broad and sometimes violent farce to warrant a recommendation, thanks to a solidly funny script by Mark Perez, some pretty neat camera moves and choreographed action/comedic sequences from directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein — and a likable and talented ensemble cast, led by two of my favorites.
You tell me you’re casting Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as a married suburban couple regardless of genre, and I’m in. Whether Bateman is in top-of-the-line vehicles such as “The Gift” or the Netflix series “Ozark,” or making the most of second-tier material like “Office Christmas Party,” he always finds a way to make his performances interesting.
As for McAdams: Other than being one of the most endearing and charming and natural and beautiful actors around, she’s doesn’t have much going for her.
Bateman’s Max and McAdams’ Annie fell in love over their shared passion for board games, video games, computer games, you name it. Comfortably married for years (but without children, a huge sticking point in the relationship), they still host a weekly Game Night — and it still REALLY matters to Max and Annie if they win at Charades or Jenga or the Game of Life.
When Max’s handsome, successful, cocky brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) swoops into town, Max’s lifelong insecurities about Brooks come bubbling to the surface — and it doesn’t help when Brooks offers to host Game Night at the expansive luxury house he has rented, with the stakes greatly raised.
Brooks announces the game will be one of those “Mystery Night” deals, with actors portraying cops and bad guys, etc., and clues sprinkled throughout the house. Oh, and the winning couple gets the keys to Brooks’ mint-condition Corvette Stingray.
Let the games begin, on about four levels.
In addition to Max and Annie, two other couples are competing:
• Billy Magnussen plays Max and Annie’s friend Ryan, a handsome but not particularly intelligent charmer who brings a different Instagram-obsessed millennial to Game Night every week. This time around, however, Ryan takes his slightly older and infinitely smarter co-worker Sarah (Sharon Horgan), because Ryan figured Brooks would make this particular Game Night a Game Night worth winning.
• Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) have been together since they were in their teens. Up until a recent game of “Never Have I Ever,” Kevin thought Michelle had never been with another man. Turns out Michelle WAS with one other fellow, years ago when she and Kevin were on a little break — and the guy was a very famous celebrity (whom she refuses to name).
It doesn’t take long for Game Night to spiral out of control. Brooks is kidnapped. An actor playing an FBI agent is severely beaten. Realistic-looking blood is spilled.
Clearly there’s something going on here, something perhaps real and legitimately dangerous — but the couples are so caught up in their respective personal dramas, they’re the last to notice. Max and Annie carry on a running discussion about whether they should have kids. Ryan becomes attracted to Sarah, who finds him amusing and sweet but also quite stupid. Kevin keeps pestering Michelle to reveal the name of the big-time celebrity she slept with.
Jesse Plemons is a deadpan delight as Max and Annie’s next-door neighbor Gary, a cop who never takes off his uniform, is wallowing in self-pity because his wife left him — and takes it VERY personally when he’s not invited to Game Night. Jeffrey Wright, Danny Huston and Michael C. Hall are all hilarious as cameo players who might be participants in the game — or maybe they’re involved in some deadly, real-world intrigue?
The “Game Night” co-directors deliver a stylish and good-looking movie. On a number of occasions, establishing shots are reminiscent of a video game, but as we zoom closer, the locale becomes “real.” Pretty cool.
We should also mention “Game Night” features a ridiculously cute dog (who gets splattered with blood at one point, poor pup!), a henchmen’s demise that gives rise to McAdams delivering one of the funniest lines I’ve heard in years — and a truly disgusting and quite hilarious take on a scene we’ve witnessed in countless action movies.
I’m talking about that moment when a character involved in some shady business gets shot, but he can’t go to the hospital because that will tip off the authorities — so an amateur has to remove the bullet.
If you’re writing a serious action movie and you’re thinking about including the ol’ remove-the-bullet scene, please see what they do with it in “Game Night,” and please recognize it’s time to retire that cliché forever.
New Line Cinema presents a film directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein and written by Mark Perez. Rated R (for language, sexual references and some violence). Running time: 100 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.