Friday, March 9, 2018

Review: Game Night (2018)

Game Night (2018)

Rated R for language, sexual references and some violence

Score: 4 out of 5

Game Night, a comedy from John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the duo who wrote Horrible Bosses and wrote and directed the recent Vacation reboot, is a bit more than it seems to be at first glance. Oh, sure, in the end its deliberately convoluted plot ultimately doesn't amount to much, a fact that the film itself plays for a joke more than anything. But whereas it may look like a goofy, R-rated mainstream crime comedy, what it winds up being is a surprisingly solid and on-point parody film, specifically of the sorts of slick, modern thrillers that David Fincher (director of the 1997 film The Game, whose plot this film is loosely based around) and the late Tony Scott built their careers on. And it goes all-in on its subject, too, aping not only the story but also the direction and visual style of those films to remarkable effect, producing a film that ably imitates its inspirations such that I was genuinely invested in its plot and characters even as it was using such as the butt of its joke. Game Night is the rare modern spoof movie that isn't a parade of pop culture references and barrel-scraping humor, but rather, a film that's smart enough to know how dumb it is, and behaves accordingly.

Our protagonists are Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), a married couple who bonded over their love of competitive board and trivia games and regularly take part in weekly game nights with their friends, the married couple Kevin and Michelle, the bachelor Ryan, and whoever Ryan's dating this week. During one of these game nights, Max's rich brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) shows up at his place and invites them all to a very special game night at his house, in which he's hired some guys to kidnap him and they have to find him. The prize: his red 1976 Corvette convertible. At the start of Brooks' game, things take a turn for the strange when armed men bust into Brooks' house, knock out the actor playing the FBI agent, and kidnap Brooks for real. Our group of friends, thinking that it's still a game, set out to find him, though it soon becomes clear that they've wandered into something far more dangerous than any of them had planned.

One thing that immediately becomes clear when watching this film is that it looks good. Daley and Goldstein are spoofing some of Hollywood's most famous visual stylists here, and their skewering of such just wouldn't have felt right if the direction was flat like most mainstream comedies are. Instead, they go out of their way to employ the same sorts of camera tricks as the subjects of their parody. It's most readily apparent with the use of a tilt-shift effect on establishing shots that make the suburbs look like a train set or (more to the point) a board game, but it's also visible in shots that otherwise could've been highly mundane, such as when the camera rotates with a door lock as a goon reaches through the door's broken window and tries to open it. The effect was such that, even if the jokes didn't land, I still would've been enthralled by this film on a purely visual level, something that I can't normally say about a Judd Apatow flick. The best part was, it wound up serving the humor. Just as the films this is parodying are often accused of using stylish, kinetic direction as a cover for thin plots that think they're smarter and meatier than they actually are, this one uses the same to get the viewer invested in a story that it knows is utterly ridiculous. This fact grows increasingly clear in the third act as Mark Perez's script piles on increasingly over-the-top revelations about the true nature of the game that seem designed to tangle the story in as many knots as possible, before ending on the reveal that everything we witnessed was masterminded for the pettiest of reasons. Like those sorts of thrillers, this film is built around a plot designed to keep you guessing, but whereas they try to use their twisting plots to try and blow your mind, this one uses it to try and bust your gut with laughter instead.

And it mostly works. The entire cast is game, led by Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams taking their turn at what's become a popular premise for crime parodies these days, dropping a dorky suburban couple into a crime thriller and watching them mess everything up. The supporting cast of TV actors playing Max and Annie's friends was also fun to watch, as were the cameos from Michael C. Hall as the crime boss who had Brooks kidnapped and Danny Huston as a depraved rich dude connected to Brooks. The scene-stealer, however, was Jesse Plemons as Gary, a cop who lives next door to Max and Annie and has never gotten over his wife Debbie leaving him (possibly; it's implied that... something else might have happened to her), especially since they were only inviting the two of them to their game nights for Debbie's company and never really liked him. Plemons, of Breaking Bad and Fargo fame, was just the right amount of creepy as Gary, a seemingly nice guy who you can't help but wonder about, especially with regards to just how much he knows about what's really going on. Without spoiling anything, he is responsible for some of the funniest moments in the film.

The Bottom Line

A funny movie that only got funnier the more I thought about it, Game Night may not amount to much, but that's part of the whole joke here. It makes for a great send-up of many modern thrillers and one of the best parody films in recent memory, and is easily recommended for anybody looking to laugh their asses off.

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