Twenty years ago, David Fincher gave us The Game, a topsy-turvy thriller with Sean Penn and Michael Douglas about a man who gives his brother a real-life game experience that blurs the lines between fiction and reality. (Heavens, has it really been 20 years?) And though it would be a bit of a cop-out to call Game Night a comedic take on the same premise, it’s at least in the right ballpark. And, frankly, “comedic” doesn’t even begin to cut it either. With a razor-sharp script by Mark Perez and direction from Horrible Bosses screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, Game Night is easily the funniest flick of the year so far, and among the more hilarious in recent memory.
Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star as Max and Annie, a couple of hyper-competitive folks who meet-cute at a trivia night in the local tavern and quickly realize they’re perfect for each other. Now happily married and living in the suburbs, the pair host a weekly game night with their friends—be it Pictionary, charades, or Risk. As long as they win. And they always do.
Their creepy neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons) used to be a game night fixture. After his divorce, though, he was frozen out by Max and Annie, setting up one of the movie’s funnier scenes right off the bat, as he confronts them on a night they’re clearly hosting game night without him. (The three bags of Tostitos in their grocery bag are, alas, a dead give-away.)
Then Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) arrives in town, and being even more competitive than his little bro, he wants to take game night to the next level. His idea is to stage his own kidnapping and have the other players follow clues to find him, but naturally it goes horribly wrong. A couple of real bad guys break up the festivities, but Annie, Max, and everyone else thinks it’s all just part of the game.
From there, Game Night spirals wildly out of control, and twists and turns are hiding around each bend. We’re as confused as the characters themselves about what’s going on, even when we think we have everything figured out.
The one thing that not confusing, though, is how damn funny it is. Sure Game Night is another age-old, Murphy’s Law comedy of errors at its core, and even though several scenes are utterly preposterous, the overall entertainment value never wanes. Bateman and McAdams play perfectly off each other with a deadpan so dry it makes Michael Scott look like one of the Three Stooges, and Plemons is so eerily unsettling he’s their perfect foil.
Much of the credit, though, goes to Perez for putting together a script so tightly wound and laugh-out-loud funny that it’ll seriously make you wonder how (and why) the last thing he did was a forgotten 2010 TV movie about golf starring Carmen Electra and John “Bo Duke” Schneider. This guy has writing talent in spades, including the rare ability (especially these days) of avoiding the stupid and lazy and making even the most outlandish situation seem relatable and downright funny.
Don’t skip your turn on this one. Game Night is a winner.