Movie. Two words. First word: Sounds like fame, as in the A-list cast that John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein use like chess pieces in their action-comedy Game Night. Second wo — okay, you get the point. Anyway, in this particular laugh-riot rollercoaster, Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play a yuppie, go-getting couple, whose marriage is founded on being competitive. Yeah, that conceit is a little gimmicky, but writer Mark Perez doubles down on the conceit, centering his entire film around a would-be murder mystery game gone awry. It’s essentially David Fincher’s The Game matched with the comic overtones of Horrible Bosses, which is why it winds up being an entertaining jaunt.
Look, in an age where an IP determines whether or not Hollywood blockbusters are made (or mainstream films at all, for that matter), it’s admittedly refreshing to see an unassuming, star-studded comedy that seemingly hearkens back to a time when a talented cast could sell a picture. And really, they do: Bateman and McAdams are magnetic together, the two oozing with personality, especially McAdams, who fully embraces the action thriller motifs of the story. Watching the two subdue real-life baddies or address garish bullet wounds or grapple with artillery that belongs in Die Hard is part of the midnight movie magic that makes Game Night such an enjoyable trip.
But they’re not alone. Kyle Chandler plays Bateman’s dickhead brother, working with a confident, cocky swagger that would make Coach Taylor blush. He’s only in the film sparingly, but makes quite an impression, seeing how his arc goes from 0-180 mph within seconds. He even indulges in a little John Wick action, thanks to one ridiculous, over-the-top kitchen fight between two assailants. Meanwhile, the rest of the party, rounded out by Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Billy Magnussen, and Sharon Horgan, add to the high-stakes chaos with their own respective arcs, all of which intersect throughout the night to oft-hilarious results. Again, the chemistry makes this work.
Elsewhere, Jesse Plemons offers up a brilliant Michael Shannon impersonation as a divorcee/cop obsessed with attending game nights — his patience and stoicism is as haunting as it is hysterical — while familiar faces such as Chelsea Peretti, Jeffrey Wright, Danny Huston, and, yes, Michael C. Hall roll the dice with their own signature quirks. Some might argue the starpower is a tad gratuitous, but it’s honestly part of the fun. Granted, they all take it seriously enough to sell the tension — and yes, there is a tension (think about the time-displaced angst of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours) — but it’s apparent early on that everyone’s chewing up the scenery as part of the genre-bending fun.
Although the screenplay was written by Perez, whose past credits are hardly reassuring (that is, unless you’re a superfan of The Country Bears, Herbie Fully Loaded, and/or Accepted), Daley and Goldstein’s influence is all over this film. Their screenplay for the aforementioned Horrible Bosses is more or less the template for this mis-adventure, which pairs countless gags with gripping stakes. As such, this isn’t a breezy comedy so much as a jovial bumper car ride, where the twists are aplenty and the consequences are often cruel. Daley and Goldstein keep things grooving along at a breakneck pace, all fueled by another “I-should-download-this” score by Cliff Martinez.
By the end, you get the sense that Daley and Goldstein are trying to shape this up to be another franchise in the vein of Horrible Bosses. Except, this time around, the premise actually has some legs and could go to some even wilder places — you know, like The Hangover series, only without the implausibility. After all, the ultimate thrill of Game Night is watching its cast of yuppies playing unlikely action heroes in unlikely situations, and the crazier you get, the funnier it could be. Regardless, what you get here is a battlefield of comedy and action, one that’s self-aware enough to eek by despite trying to look so cool and snazzy. It’s a popcorn movie, a Friday night rental, a game night.