Nobody does exasperated better than Jason Bateman. Nobody. And Bateman is given plenty of opportunities to showcase this particular talent in Game Night, the latest rollicking comedy misadventure from the co-writers of Horrible Bosses (in which the hardworking star of Arrested Development also appeared).
’Bosses scribes John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have graduated to co-directors here, leaving the writing duties to one Mark Perez. Perez penned Disney’s The Country Bears, so he has a lot to answer for.
Anyway, Bateman is one of the best things about Game Night, and he’s joined by a perky Rachel McAdams who proves to have a deft knack for slapstick. Max and Annie meet cute, satirically, in a bar when they simultaneously reveal—for double points—their Teletubby knowledge (Tinkie Winkie is the purple one, in case you were wondering. “He always carried a… red purse!”). The next thing you know, Max and Annie are lovelocked, then married, montage-style, and soon hosting couples game nights in their suburban home… in so generic a development it’s literally a plastic model from the air.
Anyway, these covert game night affairs regularly arouse the suspicions of their law enforcement neighbor, Gary (a creepily good Jesse Plemons), who’s not been invited to one since his wife left him. She was the fun one, apparently.
Game Night’s major strength is, in fact, its casting, which also takes advantage of some very appealing supporting players. The usual attendees at Max and Annie’s competitive contests include dimwitted Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and his bimbo of the week… although for the bulk of the film he’s traded up for a sharp-tongued Irish lass, played by Sharon Horgan (he thinks she’s English, naturally). Also on deck are the happily-married-since-high-school Kevin and Michelle (the likeable Lamorne Morris from New Girl, along with Kylie Bunbury). When Max’s intimidatingly successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) shows up in a shiny red 1976 Corvette Stingray—Max’s dream car—the stakes spike precipitously. No board games tonight! Someone is about to be… taken! Now these game game players need to figure out the mystery before, well… before it becomes an actual murder mystery.
My expectations were, alas, way up for this one, having stupidly ODed on the super-cute trailer, and I was disappointed I didn’t find it funnier (Catastrophe’s Horgan is given a few zingers but deserves more). Game Night is funny, no question—writer Perez certainly redeems himself with occasional flashes of brilliance—but I was hoping for more consistent belly laughs given the talent involved rather than a smattering of lightweight chuckles throughout. At least the film doesn’t devolve into gross-out gags and scatalogical humor, so that earns it an extra half star at least.
Max [drawing Ed Norton in a game of charades]: Oh, this, easy. He was, er… Incredible Hulk.
Kevin and Michelle [simultaneously]: Eric Bana.
Max: Other one.
Michelle: Mark Ruffalo.
Max [frustrated]: OTHER one.
Ryan [shouting victoriously]: Lou Ferrigno!
Max [making a fist for emphasis]: Primal Fear.
Kevin [confused]: Richard Gere never played the Incredible Hulk.
Max [disgusted]: Jesus Christ! Ed Norton.
That’s fine comedic writing. And classic Jason Bateman.
(c) 2018 David N. Butterworth