Hectic, blood-soaked pooch mayhem better than any game of Jenga.
There’s a moment in Game Night, when the sensational electric (quite literally) score from Drive composer Cliff Martinez kicked in, that convinced me that it was quite a few points above other big studio comedies. Coming straight from the blackly comic minds of 2011’s criminally underrated Horrible Bosses, this twisted caper is a damn fantastic time, featuring terrific music, game performances, and a tightly-woven script that has the courage to tease a gag and stick with it till the bitter end.
Game party loving, ultra competitive couple Annie and Max (Rachel McAdams & Jason Bateman) and their friends become entangled in a little-too-serious murder mystery organised by Max’s till-now estranged, cocky brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler). What starts off as well-organised group fun descends into something much messier.
We open in a dusky, moderately lit pub quiz night, reminiscent of the opening sequence of The Social Network. Max hams up the drunkness to put other players off their game as he slyly orders four shots of water and four shots of vodka for competing tables, just as he screams out the answer to a question the quizmaster got four words into. The camera turns to Annie’s much poorer team, and her audible frustration at this fact. The two eventually lock eyes in a moment of pure chemistry, quick starting a Queen-infused opening sequence of the games which brought the pair closer together (Risk, Pictionary, Charades etc). John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s direction is charmingly executed from the get-go, a trend which continues throughout. But there’s some real technical ambition present here, unlike what you would expect from a ‘standard’ Hollywood comedy.
Take the more kinetic scenes for example. Daley and Goldstein’s choreography is not only comical, but expertly thought out (well shot by cinematographer Barry Peterson), whether it is Brooks being pursued through his home by villains while Max enjoys some posh cheese, or Annie accidentally shooting Max in the arm (cueing him to splutter out hilariously, “bloooood”). You’ll be surprised at the lengths the filmmakers go to with Bateman’s leaky arm. But that’s just the thing; you’re going to be surprised, very pleasantly.
Writer Mark Perez (who worked on 2006’s breezed-over Accepted), works alongside Daley in crafting some laugh-out loud gags. Its predominantly slapstick humour, but that shouldn’t disparage it. Seriously, Bateman biting into a dog toy has provided one of the year’s biggest laughs. But taking inspiration from the age-old cartoon delights of old where a character could sit on an exploding bomb and still be left standing, the filmmakers don’t root the stakes of the game too much in reality, but neither do they play with them too gleefully that it feels over-the-top (apart from one engine-induced calamity).
Bateman and McAdams are an ace on-screen couple, bouncing off each other like a bickering husband and wife whose love is never in doubt. A potential baby problem spells out a ‘trouble in paradise’ sub-plot from the beginning, which adds a sad little layer of predictability to proceedings. But quite often the film takes a turn you weren’t expecting, like all good mysteries. Balancing a cast like this takes some work, but the directing team doesn’t often struggle. Jesse Plemons confidently portrays a weirdo, divorced cop who lives next-door to lead couple, possessing every interaction with his off-kilter silences and amusingly eery statements. Chandler makes for a solid choice as the egotistic brother, engaging with Bateman in ways that’ll feel warmly reminiscent of viewers with male siblings. Other members of the cast aren’t quite as memorable, although Lamorne Morris’ Denzel impersonation is a revelation. But one thing is never in question – they’re having a lot of fun, which wins the audience over. You may resist its quirkiness at first, but once you succumb to its charms, whether it be in the form of Bateman’s reliable comedic chops, the camaraderie at play, the delectable violent delights or even the core mystery; you’ll just be glad you’re in the game.