In 1997, there was a Michael Douglas movie called The Game, in which Douglas’s character is given a birthday gift by his younger brother, played by Sean Penn. The gift is a game that basically ends up being life or death. Why bring that up? That movie kept popping into my head while watching Game Night. This movie is from the same production team behind Horrible Bosses, which is hilarious and worth a watch if you haven’t.
Game Night follows the story of Max and Annie, a couple drawn together because of their furious competitiveness playing various board games. The movie begins with a montage showing how they met and got married intermingled with various game nights. We then jump to present day, where Max and Annie are prepping for a game night and attempting to avoid their creepy police officer neighbor Gary. When Gary was still married to his wife, Debbie, they came to game night. However, they have since divorced, and Gary hasn’t exactly taken it well, so Max and Annie spend a lot of time avoiding him. They are also meeting with a fertility doctor as they are trying to have a baby. The doctor seems to pin down that Max’s sperm isn’t great as a result of his stress about his brother coming into town to visit. His brother, Brooks, has always been more popular, more charismatic, more successful, etc. And now he’s coming to game night.
Max and Annie invite their friends, Kevin and Michelle (a married couple who were each other’s childhood sweethearts), and Ryan, who brings a new friend from work, Sarah. Brooks eventually shows loudly arrives in a fancy new car, which draws Gary’s attention, ruining their plans to not let him know they were having a party. After an evening in which Brooks humiliates Max in front of everyone – he insists on hosting game night at his house next week, promising something above and beyond.
The next week, everyone arrives at Brooks’s giant house, and he sets up a murder mystery game night. Telling the group this ahead of time, they don’t react when some burly guys come in and kidnap Brooks. Then an ‘FBI Agent’ comes in to give them files to help them solve the case. Eventually they begin to realize that Brooks was really taken, and the rest of the night becomes a mess of trying to figure out what is real, what is fake, and what needs to be done to rescue Brooks. Spoiler alert – it all has a happy ending.
The movie is directed by John Francis Daley (yes, from Freaks and Geeks and Bones) and Jonathan Goldstein. It’s well-paced, and each character has just enough development that you are interested in them, without pulling focus from the two leads. The strength of the movie is absolutely the cast and the way they play off each other.
- Jason Bateman plays Max, and honestly, if you like Jason Bateman – you’ll love him in this. He excels at “sarcastic straight man” in a comedy – something he perfected on Arrested Development and it fits perfectly here. The subplot about him being stressed, and maybe not really wanting to have a baby felt a little forced, but ended up not overpowering the story, just another piece of the character.
- Rachel McAdams plays Annie, and I was a little surprised by how well she handled the comedy. The age difference between her and Bateman felt noticeable, but they did pair well, and the chemistry of two really competitive people was believable.
- Kyle Chandler plays Brooks, and was charming and popular, right up until he wasn’t anymore. It’s not a shift that is surprising, because you can see it coming, but he still manages to play that well.
- Billy Magnussen plays Ryan, one of Max and Annie’s friends who keeps bringing over dumb ‘instagram model’ types to the game night montage. He plays the pretty and dumb guy – but not dumb enough to be annoying, just clueless enough to be funny, and still genuinely concerned about his friends.
- Sharon Horgan plays Sarah – Ryan’s Irish guest, who proves to be a breath of fresh air from his typical date night guests. She is a co-worker of his, and while it seems that he originally brought her to win the game, the two begin to form a genuine bond over the course of the evening.
- Lamorne Morris plays Kevin, and Kylie Bunbury plays Michelle – they have been a couple since grade school, and always come to Max and Annie’s game nights. Their side plot is that during the course of preliminary games, Michelle lets it slip that she one time slept with a celebrity, even though they’ve been together forever, so the rest of their evening is them attempting to solve the game, while also solving how they both feel about that event. It could have gotten painful or forced, but again, it manages to stay an interesting subplot – with a hilarious pay off.
- Jesse Plemons plays Gary, the next door neighbor police officer, who is so creepy that he is no longer invited to game night after his divorce. The lengths that Max and Annie go to prevent him from finding out they are hosting are really funny. He steals every scene he’s in by just being creepy enough to not make you hate him, but almost make you feel for him – it’s a really fine line, and Plemons walks it well!
- Michael C. Hall shows up briefly as the Bulgarian, an international criminal after a Fabrege Egg. Danny Huston shows up even more briefly as Donald Anderton, the current possessor of said Egg.
- Chelsea Peretti plays Glenda, the secretary of the murder-mystery game night company, while an uncredited Jeffery Wright plays the “FBI Agent” working for the company.
Overall, the movie is short, simple, and entertaining. The cast elevates the material to make for a fun outing. It’s worth a watch, but not necessarily at the theater.
7 out of 10 – Also, rewatch The Game, which is not nearly as entertaining, but is definitely way more creepy.