Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Review: "Game Night" is the movie you won't expect to see.

Game Night Review

Well, I wasn't expecting that tonight.

Have you ever seen a preview for a movie and thought to yourself "Hmm. Looks like something I've seen several times before but what the heck? The cast is solid, maybe it will be funny." I've had many thoughts similar to that very sentence. I then work up the courage to check these movies out. Sometimes, they are good. Other times, not so good. And yes, there are even some outright dreck. Rarely, am I surprised by a movie like this. "Game Night" is a movie where you know pretty much where the movie is heading from the moment the film starts. But there are some curveballs thrown, there are zigs when the movie should zag? You've seen these movies a thousand times before, right? This isn't how it should work. Oh yeah, there are story moments that work in a predictable kind of way, but the film is just entertaining enough that the film sticks.

Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are two competitive game-lovers who meet at a bar on a trivia night. Instead of becoming rivals, they are drawn to each other's game strategy and knowledge, constantly dazzling each other. They quickly fall in love and host game nights for their friends. This just becomes one of those ritualistic things we all have with our family and friends, and Max and Annie prove time and again that they make an unbeatable team in any type of party or board game you can throw their way. The two love birds eventually marry.

Annie is ready to become a mother, and her and Max begin to try to conceive, with absolutely no avail. They've been trying for a while too. I've actually known the feeling. For anyone whose been there probably knows too. Getting pregnant isn't something that just happens, unless you get lucky. My first daughter will be here this summer, and it took a good five months to get there. I know how crazy that can drive some exciting parents. But an abnormally long time? That gets downright scary. So Max and Annie visit a doctor and find out that the huge amount of stress Max is suffering from is putting a dent in his performance. Its not from work or anything substantial. Max has such a straining relationship with his brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler, having the most fun I've ever seen him have in a movie). Brooks has tons of money from some good investments, and he loves putting it to Max, in a way that is starting to hurt his social life.

Brooks decides to wow Max, Annie and their friends and host a game night. But what he has in store is much different to what they are used to. There are no board games or the typical party game. This is more of a mystery dinner theater type thing. An improvisational acting thing. Brooks explains that someone in their group will be "kidnapped" and the rest will receive clues to where they will be stashed, whoever gets to the kidnapped participant first gets Brooks latest sports car. It all seems like fun to Max, Annie and their group, so they decide to go with it. Soon enough, some masked thugs break in and kidnap Brooks. It's a little rough than they were expecting, but they are all taking it in as fun. Once Brooks is out the door, they get their clues and follow them. But once its evident that there are real guns, confused actors and genuine danger, things take a dark turn and perhaps there is something bigger at play here.

That's all the description of story I am going to write here. I'm sure some of you who have seen tons of Hollywood movies are already trying to decipher how the movie plays out, sure enough that you know the secrets of the film. You do, but you don't and that's the fun of it all. I love it when movies play by the "rules" of a genre or a style, then break them at the same time. "Game Night" is a movie that is gleeful about pranking its audience all while its pranking its characters. When you read about this movie, something you read a lot is "better than expected," truer words couldn't be spoken.

Part of the reason why it works is the nice combination of Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman. This type of role is catnip for Bateman, so I knew he'd be great. McAdams is more often than not, a question mark for me. She do good in a role or she can completely overact. Here, she finds just the right balance, and she creates someone human and sincere. And like I said, Chandler has never had this much fun in a role. Honestly, I don't think Jesse Plemons has either, who plays a robot-like police officer who shows up in a few scenes, and honestly he's hilarious. I laughed out loud, its just that simple. Billy Magnussen is really good here, as is Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury and Sharon Horgan. Even the cameos by Danny Huston, Michael C. Hall and Jeffrey Wright are more memorable than usual. They clearly all saw the potential in the screenplay and they ran with it. The script by Mark Perez is a joy. A powerhouse of fun ideas and situations. 

The biggest problem I have is that I just wanted more. I wanted to keep playing this game. I will say that the movie is a little thick with double-crosses near the end. You may also feel a little that the cast and crew maybe trying a little too hard, when they already had the audience on the hook. But no matter, "Game Night" is an unexpected thrill ride. A movie we hope to see so often at the movie theater, but what we rarely see. Definitely not the type of movie we expect to see in this down season while the awards circuit wraps up. Hats off to everyone involved, I indeed laughed. I was indeed intrigued. You will be too, I'm sure.


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