If you watched David Fincher’s The Game and longed for all the weird tension to be replaced by generic gags, might I recommend Game Night or a long hard look in the mirror.
This new comedy stars Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as a competitive suburban couple whose game night is gatecrashed by Kyle Chandler, reprising his Manslaughter by the Sea role of “brother”.
Just like Michael Douglas’ brother in The Game, Chandler introduces a high-stakes game that blurs the line between reality and simulation.
This idea has been used many times before, most successfully in the haunted house episode of Nathan For You, a show that perfected this blurring of fact and fiction. Game Night is considerably clunkier, about as seamless as a mismatched jigsaw forced into place by the team behind Horrible Bosses.
That it makes no sense goes without saying; it’s practically the point of the movie. But the characters continually cracking wise in what they believe to be life-or-death situations undermines the film’s internal logic, and that’s ultimately where the film falls apart.
It’s not even that the jokes are bad; there’s even a decent bit to do with Denzel Washington. The problem is that it could be from any comedy film, having nothing to do with the plot. This feels symptomatic of Hollywood comedies in general, where the jokes don’t feel like they were written for that movie but picked out of a bag at random.
Equally incongruous is a subplot involving Bateman and McAdams trying to get pregnant, suggesting that we’re meant to root for them. In which case, why would you cast Jason Bateman? The reason he was good in Arrested Development was because Michael Bluth was supposed to be a selfish prick. Here he’s so unlikeable that McAdams’ character would have to be mentally challenged to be voluntarily married to him – which, it quickly becomes obvious, she is.
The supporting cast are such fine performers that the picture never gets boring. Chandler and Jesse Plemons provide a welcome Friday Night Lights reunion, and it’s great to see Sharon Horgan in a movie, even one as messy as this.
And it is a mess, sacrificing peril or personality for the same gags you see in every trailer. Some things happen, except they don’t, and by the time Michael C. Hall shows up at the end it’s too late. Game over.