Farce is a beast to get right in movies. The fact that Game Night hits the mark more often than it hits a wall is cause for cheering. Hell, if you have Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams to play the game-loving marrieds heading a cast of merry pranksters, you’re already ahead of the game. I wasn’t thrilled that the rowdy Mark Perez script fell into the hands of directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein since they perpetrated the 2015 remake of Vacation on an unsuspecting public. But high spirits carry the day as Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams) organize another night of charades, Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, Monopoly or any other game that allows them to show off their hyper-competitive, pop-culture smarts, mostly to duck the subject of child-bearing that Max fears. They sound obnoxious, but Bateman’s dazzling deadpan can raise tired zingers to raucous life with only a throwaway eyebrow lift. And McAdams takes to comedy with a natural actor’s grace and precision. Talk about fun company. They’re it.
And they’ve lucked out with their comic cohorts. As Ryan, Billy Magnussen is cluelessly hilarious trading quips with his current date, Sarah (Sharon Horgan). As Kevin and Michelle, the other married couple, Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunburry use jokes to ease Kevin’s pain about Michelle’s alleged fling with a celebrity during a brief separation. Was it Denzel Washington? Morris’ impersonation is killer. And so are the games, especially when the gamers struggle to identify Ed Norton while mentioning every other actor from infinity to beyond who once played the Hulk. And did I mention Gary (Jesse Plemons), Max and Annie’s neighbor, a divorced cop so devoid of personality that the gamers invent any pretext not to invite him? Plemons damn near steals the movie with his sad-puppy eyes turning creepy as he suspiciously spots three bags of Tostitos in Max and Annie’s shopping bags. They lamely insist it was a 3-for-1 sale, to which Gary counters with statistics: “How would that be good for the Frito-Lay company?” If this kind of nonsense tickles your funny bone like it did mine, you’re in the right place.
It’s when the script tries to over complicate things that the movie hits a rough patches. The trouble starts when Kyle Chandler shows up as Brooks, the better-looking, more successful brother Max has resented for years. It’s Brooks who invites the gang to his posh house to play a mystery game in which one of the group will be snatched by paid actors and the others will have to follow clues and figure out how to save the poor sucker. But as everyone struggles to figure out what’s real and what’s bogus, the movie loses traction. The elaborate plot slows down the movie with car chases, bar fights and guns with real bullets just when you want to hang with the characters and get to know them better. Don’t worry, almost no one gets killed – except for the bad guys. Danny Huston and Michael C. Hall have a blast playing two of the baddest. No worries. Even as Game Night spins out of control, you stick around for the inspired lunacy. It’s party time.