Max and Annie (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams) meet at a bar running a quiz night. It’s love at first sight as the two super-competitive gamers get together. Eventually, they establish a regular game night amongst their friendship group. It’s fun and it keeps the couple in regular contact with another married couple, Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) and their friend, a serial dater-of-models, Ryan (Billy Magnussen). This group of people are extremely competitive, so when Max’s popular brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), arrives back in town after years spent overseas, and offers up an ultra-challenging game night of his own, they simply must take part.
Brooks is successful in every way. He has a great job, loads of money and he has just purchased a beautiful new home. Nonetheless, he spends a little too much time insulting brother Max about his shortcomings. This strand of the story seems to be a deliberate echo of the brotherly relationship between the Sean Penn and Michael Douglas characters in David Fincher’s The Game (1997). Max is determined to defeat Brooks at this new version of game night, but before that happens, the fancy new house is attacked by masked gun-men who kidnap his older brother. Suddenly, the group are facing a life-and-death situation where nothing is a game.
This is the second feature co-directed by film-making duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. The pair co-wrote Horrible Bosses (2011), The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013), and Horrible Bosses 2 (2014); they co-wrote and co-directed Vacation (2015); and the duo were co-story writers for the Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). This last movie, in box office terms, is their greatest moneymaker at $800 million. It should be noted that every one of these writerly efforts, apart from Burt Wonderstone, has broken $100 million at the box office. Daley and Goldstein aren’t household names, but in Hollywood terms, they’re solid gold hitmakers.
GAME NIGHT is an attempt to develop their talents in a somewhat different direction. The film is a thriller as well as a comedy. The laughs are more grounded in character than their other offerings and the action sequences are well-handled and exciting. The only place this fast-moving and funny film loses focus is towards the end where the packed plot threatens to confuse.
Performances are consistently funny across the ensemble cast. Bateman and McAdams are amusing and have great chemistry. All the friends are on point for comedy. There is a welcome appearance from Sharon Horgan (from TV’s Catastrophe) as a “date” that Ryan has brought along because she is smart, rather than his type. Fans of Horgan won’t be disappointed to see her getting laughs on the big screen. Jesse Plemons who plays the intense and awkward next-door neighbour Gary is also a stand-out.
GAME NIGHT is a skilful blend of action and humour that makes for a fun 100 minutes at the cinema. (7.5/10)
Read the Rachel McAdams’ interview here.