Friday, February 23, 2018

Games People Play: GAME NIGHT

Game Night is comedy played fast and tight, an action thriller paced like a farce and overflowing with choice one-liners and witty banter. It’s a hoot. My favorite running joke involves various characters over the course of one-crazy-night falling into surprisingly sturdy glass tables. There’s such a satisfyingly goofy thunk as a body goes bouncing off where every other movie would give us a pleasing shattering smash. The action around this funny thread – just one of many, and besides the movie is so fast-paced all the jokes could count as running jokes – involves a group of friends whose weekly get-together goes very, very wrong. A competitive husband and wife (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams) find their game night (pals played by Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, and Kylie Bunbury) invited to a murder mystery night by his rich, arrogant brother (Kyle Chandler). But, on the night in question, before the man can even explain all the rules past the ominous “it will look real,” actual criminals barge in, beat him up, and kidnap him. Now the group jets off on what they think is a scavenger hunt to find where a group of actors have taken him, but are instead pulled deeper and deeper into a black market conspiracy where the guns, blood, cops, criminals, car chases, and stolen goods are all-too real. 

Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (helming a superior project to their Vacation) take seriously the goofy script by Mark Perez (The Country Bears, improbably enough). Watch with the sound off and you might convince yourself you’re watching a Fincher knockoff. The shots are crisp, the violence bruises, and the lighting is dramatic shadows and rain-slick streets. But then there is the rapid-fire patter of bickering friends, treating it with all the tension and drama that’d be a little exaggerated were it a game of Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit, but is dramatically underplayed given the life-and-death situation of which they’re barely aware. Gradually, as they realize how in-over-their-heads they really are, the comedy is in the sudden scared flailing they have to keep in check in order to survive the night. That they’re also still so competitive that they can’t help but continue sniping little digs at one another is a fine touch. Beyond the high-energy excitement and the high-spirited joke-a-minute dialogue shot through with visual wit and whimsy – game board tilt-shift establishing shots; composited one-take mad-dash chases – the movie finds itself smartly rooted in the genuine affection of its participants. No matter how harried and dangerous the proceedings become, Bateman and McAdams are allowed to keep the suspense entirely out of their relationship. They’re a close-knit pair, clearly in love, adorably competitive with one another in a way that shows them to be enjoying playing the games because they actually like each other. The same extends to the friend group itself, which might get at each other’s throats, but never more than any gathering around the Sorry board. Even when a thug gets bloodily killed, there’s a nod to the stakes without skipping a laugh. This is big, broad, studio comedy-making operating at a consistently entertaining high.

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