Light and entertaining early, “Game Night” can’t capitalize on the romantic chemistry between it’s likable leads and deliver on it’s comedic thriller tease.
Things start pretty well in “Game Night,” however, when Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) meet at a local pub’s trivia night. Not only can they answer all the questions before they are read in their entirety, they can finish each other’s sentences. Of course, it’s love at first sight, but once married that previous competitive spark that burned brightly is fading. The game night that then revolved around the bar has now migrated to their home where glasses of wine around games of charades and Jenga just aren’t cutting it.
Enter Max’ edgy brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler). This older, more successful, apparently better looking sibling visits their game night with a purpose. Brooks invites Max, Annie, and their friends to his mansion for a night of gaming that will not be forgotten. But, as required in these low concept comedy/thriller mashups, something goes horribly wrong.
The charm of the “Game Night” setup just can’t be topped no matter how hard the script works to win us over. As the action moves from the relative safety of board games in the living room to a night on the town, the story gets ever more unhinged and outlandish. And decisions made by the characters become less and less credible as comedy gives way to cliched crime elements. And this leads to a rushed race to the bottom.
Never, at any point, does the crime story that dominates the entire second half of “Game Night” make sense, or add the least bit of intrigue or risk. It’s all fairly incoherent and unimportant. The characters go blindly into the dangerous night, but what’s really missing is the sense of danger. Even when Max gets shot in the arm, his no doubt crippling injury is treated like a scratch that can be fixed with a bottle of gas station wine and a band-aid. It’s not that I was hoping for a dramatic adult turn akin to what Jonathan Demme gave us in his marvelous 1986 adventure “Something Wild,” but “Game Night” is nothing less than a live-action cartoon.
Still, some things work, namely Jesse Plemons as Max and Annie’s creepy police officer neighbor Gary. But as unnerving as his character is early, he wears out his welcome when forced into the film’s multiple conclusions. It’s telling that the movie’s funniest and scariest scenes take place in Gary’s suburban home that contains what appears to be Civil War artifacts and a shrine to Gary’s ex-wife, who’s left him.
And yet, co-director’s John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, working from a script by Mark Perez, just don’t have enough confidence in that story to make it pay off. Instead, the wild, eager to please everyone narrative veers off in many directions splintering into a sampling a half a dozen better films on its way to a half-baked, hackneyed and unsatisfying conclusion. It’s rubbish, but with Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams making goo-goo eyes at each other somewhat romantically. Unfortunately, their chemistry alone doesn’t win the prize.