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Game Night
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by Jay Seaver

"Plays well."
4 stars

Hey, check it out - a broad comedy where the characters actually, without-a-doubt, like each other! It doesn't seem like such a big deal to say, but so many of these movies are built around bickering and buried hostility that seeing how much the central pair is into one another - from a flashback opening that celebrates their shared eccentricity all the way to the end - is a breath of fresh air. "Game Night" is so flat-out fond of its goofball cast of characters that it seldom has to slow down to make sure that its many jokes don't get taken the wrong way.

That's mostly Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), who met captaining opposing barroom trivia teams and have been leading weekly game nights with their friends ever since, though they're currently having trouble conceiving and Max is fretting over the imminent return of his brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) for a visit. And, indeed, Brooks seems to be passive-aggressively shoving his success in Max's face, inviting the regular crew - Kevin (Lamorne Morris) & Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), who have been together since junior high, Ryan (Billy Magnussen), a former co-worker, and Sarah (Sharon Horgan), who is suspiciously less of an airhead than Ryan's usual date - over to his fancy rented house for a mystery party. Next-door neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons) is not invited, as he's been more and more uncomfortable to be around since breaking up with Debbie, which might be a mistake, as the guys who bust in and kidnap Brooks are not the actors he hired to do so.

There's something a little uneven about how Max's competitive nature has a story behind it which drives the movie - he's never beaten Brooks at anything and the stress is starting to eat him up - while Annie is just as aggressive, kind of getting a kick out of pointing a gun around when the opportunity comes, without it pushing much forward. Both of them could come across as obsessive psychopaths if not handled just right, but the script by Mark Perez is quick to dispense with the notion of them competing with each other rather than being supportive, and the actors make sure they're upbeat without being exhausting. Rachel McAdams seems to be having a blast as Annie, almost aggressively cheerful and sweet but not pushy, smiling wide but not so wide as to seem like she's enjoying something she shouldn't. She seems like a good influence on Jason Bateman, whose flustered everyman routine can often veer toward the sarcastic but here manages the same excellent comic timing with it skewed a bit more to the jovial.

The other couples generate their laughs with a bit more friction, as Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury play out a running gag about a fling in Michelle's past that could go sour if it wasn't used to spice up how she and Kevin make a pretty good team. Sharon Horgan's reactions as Sarah to Billy Magnussen's shallow airhead don't fit in the movie quite as well, but they're good enough back and forth that when the characters call out the oddness of Sarah sticking around, her explanation that she just kind of got caught up in it is good enough. Kyle Chandler plays Brooks with just the right amount of smarm and Jesse Plemons is just creepy enough as Gary that they fit the movie but don't quite slide into the group the way that Sarah does.

Perez's script is a good one, and directors John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein help their cast get the most of it; the jokes come quick without tripping over each other, with the recurring gags are given just enough space between repetitions to stay funny. They're really good at striking just the right tone, with a knack for self-reference that winks at the audience but doesn't sprain its eyelid doing so (it's one thing to joke about last-act plot twists, another to imply they know that Denzel Washington is a pop-culture reference joke that will stand the test of time but Ed Norton isn't). Everything is just heightened enough, and the little dioramas that set scenes are a fun to keep things light and unreal when the plot might be moving to far to the front. The action is good enough to be in a movie played straighter without trying to outdo those flicks or getting far from the jokes, and Cliff Martinez contributes a nifty score.

Plus - it's about 100 minutes long, so it never had a chance to go flat. Like the characters who get along, not letting a comedy wear out its welcome seems pretty obvious, but not a lot do it quite so well as "Game Night".

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=31214&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/02/18 23:37:17
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User Comments

3/04/18 The Lovelorn Ewok For a supposed comedy its so embarrassingly unfunny. 1 stars
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