Game Night is more than funny enough to be a worthwhile watch. It’s got a bunch of different types of humor—from awkward conversations to pitch-black jokes to more-violent-than-slapstick physicality—and the majority of it lands. The most important thing about a comedy is that it makes the audience laugh. Ideally, those laughs will be of the belly, laugh-out-loud variety. Game Night delivered a bunch of chuckles and several belly laughs. It will, as far as I’m concerned, wind up in the conversation for the funniest movie of 2018.
The plot follows a few couples on “game night,” a weekly routine for the individuals involved. The games are typically hosted by Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), a married couple who are super competitive; that’s why they fell in love, they tell us. Also participating are Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), who have been together since they were teenagers, and Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and whichever woman he’s with that week. And it does change weekly.
This game night will be different. Max’s brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler) is in town and decides to host it himself. He stages a kidnapping that’ll play out similarly to a murder-mystery, with each couple teaming up in order to solve the hostage situation prior to the others. But when he’s taken, something seems fishy. It seems a little too real. The movie, for the rest of its running time, plays with whether or not what we’re seeing is part of Brooks’ plan, or if he really has been kidnapped.
Much of the film’s success lies in the way its characters react to this. How they treat the situation, which depending on the scene they either believe is real or fake, is key. We need to believe that these people would react they way they are, and while Game Night sometimes stretches our suspension of disbelief, it never pulls it so tight that it breaks. And since most of the times it comes close it’s in service of laughs, and because most of those hit, it’s hard to be mad about it.
Game Night is really funny, and that’s enough to make it worth seeing.
The is-it-real-or-is-it-fake central mystery gets a lot of mileage, although the movie doesn’t ultimately leave anything ambiguous. It’s not trying to pull one over on you for longer than it runs. That’s not a problem. A lot of movies with similar premises try to get too clever and cute about it. And while Game Night plays around with that, we’re not left wondering afterward. And in a comedy, I don’t think we need it. It makes more sense in something like a Total Recall, where thinking plays a bigger role.
Not that you have to shut off your brain to enjoy Game Night, but it’s a comedy first and foremost, and things like thematic depth and strong characters come way below on the priority list. Each couple is given one or two things about which to obsess beyond the central mystery, and the film thinks that’s enough. The effort is appreciated, but it’s not going to do much to engage us. We’re laughing enough that it doesn’t matter, but it lacks any sort of staying power. It’s one of those “funny and forget it” types of movies.
The cast is a lot of fun. It’s clear that Bateman and McAdams are the leads, but each of the primary supporting actors gets a few solid lines, too. Jesse Plemons has a turn as their neighbor, and it’s hilarious, creepy, and sweet. Almost anything out of Billy Magnussen’s mouth is really funny. There are a lot of great moments, a few solid running gags, and the interplay between the various characters works well. And co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein work in some nice visual touches. One involves the way many of the aerial establishing shots looks like they’re filming board game pieces. Another is a one-take-looking (I suspect it wasn’t actually) action scene in a very nice house.
Game Night is really funny, and that’s enough to make it worth seeing. If you like comedies, this is a good one, especially in an age where so many of them are awful. If you’re here for a ton of ambiguity given its premise, you’ll be disappointed, as is also the case if you’re hoping for thematic depth or strong characters. But if you want jokes and gags? You’ve come to the right place. It’s hilarious from its opening moment to its credits—and even then throws in some extra laughs over the first bit of those. It’s entertaining and hysterical. And that’s enough.
Conclusion: Game Night is really funny. Just don’t expect anything more.
Recommendation: If you want a new comedy and like the actors or the premise, Game Night is a good one to pick.