Movie Review: Game Night (2018)
“Game Night” is another of those suburbanites-out-of-water comedies (cf., “Date Night,” “The Hangover,” “Central Intelligence”), but better than most. Subtler anyway. It has a nice, dry, off-hand sense of humor. Jason Bateman is a master at this, while his on-screen wife Rachel McAdams is so good we wonder why she isn’t doing more comedies. Witness her paroxysms when she plays the kids-at-home card after a gangster gets the drop on her, and he responds, “Not with that ass you don’t.”
We also get regular laughs from Billy Magnussen as Ryan, the dopey friend who favors bimbos, and Jesse Plemons as Gary, the creepy, needy neighbor/cop who just wants back into game night. I laughed a lot. At one point I laughed so hard my wife shushed me in the nearly empty theater at Pacific Place in downtown Seattle. And initially I didn’t even think much of the bit.
The absurdity of the situation
It’s that moment, mid-chase, when most of the gang is in Gary’s living room, faux-playing, but really allowing Max (Bateman) time to sneak into Gary’s bedroom and look up intel on the police computer. While there, he unknowingly drips blood from his gunshot wound onto Gary’s white terrier, Bastion (Olivia). Horrified, he tries to rub it off with a towel, which turns out to be a T-shirt with Gary’s beloved ex, Debbie, on it; and when that doesn’t work, he adds water and makes it all worse—both dog and T-shirt turn pink. This kind of thing never makes me laugh, by the way, just anxious. It’s a little too “I Love Lucy.” He’s not doing the smart thing to extricate himself from the situation; he’s doing the dumb thing to keep himself in the situation. So I was just nodding along, waiting for the stupid scene to end, when, covered now with water and blood, Bastion does the dog shake and winds up splattering slow-mo blood all over Gary’s already-creepy shrine to Debbie. That’s when I lost it.
The plot: Max and Annie (McAdams) are a fun, competitive couple who have weekly game nights at their small home in a nondescript cul-de-sac; but this one is hijacked by Max’s older, more successful brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), to the trendy apartment he’s renting in town. There, he announces game night will be an interactive role-playing game, and whoever solves it will get the keys to his 1976 Corvette Stingray. “Just the keys?” Ryan asks.
A faux FBI agent (Jeffrey Wright) soon arrives and announces one of them will be kidnapped before the night is over. And sure enough, two toughs break in, knock out the agent, and battle and take away Brooks while the others ooh and ah at how real it looks but mostly keep up the normal patter. “You have to try this cheese,” Max says.
Of course, the kidnapping is real, and our couples spend the rest of the movie in pursuit and pursued. Each has its subplot:
- Max and Annie have been having trouble conceiving, and Max is maybe thinking it’s not a good idea anyway.
- Michelle (Kylie Bunbury, distractingly pretty) lets slip she once slept with a celebrity, and hubbie Kevin (Lamorne Morris) spends the evening guessing.
- Rather than his usual bimbo, Ryan brings along a smarter, older colleague as a ringer (Sharon Horgan), and throughout they maybe become closer. Or maybe not.
Max also has older brother issues and maybe they’re related to why he can’t conceive? Maybe he lacks confidence? Because of Brooks?
The absurdity of us
Many things aren't what they seem, though. Brooks is not a Wall Street trader, he just sold coke to those guys, which is why he’s been kidnapped. He was supposed to deliver a Fabergé egg to “the Bulgarian” (Michael C. Hall), and someone else got it. But the egg isn’t an egg, either. It’s a fake containing a list of names on the Witness Protection Program. Even the game night that seems so deadly? It’s part of an elaborate plot by Gary to get back into game night. Gary, of course, didn’t know Brooks was a crook, so he didn’t know about the Fabergé egg and the Bulgarian. Also, if you unpack it, it means Gary—a cop—planned an assault (on the faux FBI agent and Brooks) and a kidnapping (on Brooks). I know he doesn’t seem smart, but he’s not that dumb.
But all that’s maguffin. What matters, as always in a comedy, is the comedy, and “Game Night” has enough of it. At one point, after Max is shot in the arm, Annie gets supplies to remove the bullet from a nearby mart. No rubbing alcohol, she informs him, so “I got you this lovely chard.” He: “Way to pivot.” My favorite part? She also picks up a magazine, Country Living, for its corn chowder recipe. It’s that. It’s almost never the absurdity of the situation; it’s almost always the absurdity of us.