01st Mar2018

‘Game Night’ Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Kyle Chandler, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons | Written by Mark Perez | Directed by John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

Game-Night-Movie-poster

Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein are responsible for the recent [National Lampoon’s] Vacation reboot, while writer Mark Perez is best known for… I dunno, Herbie Fully Loaded? This roster of dubious talent should tell you what to expect from this inane crime comedy – i.e. not very much. Don’t be fooled by the headline cast.

Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), one-time pub quiz meet-cuters, are struggling to conceive. The doctor reckons it’s stress-related. The stress is caused by the imminent arrival of Max’s charming, extroverted brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler, ironically more charmless than ever). He’s coming to town for the titular Game Night, a regular competition hosted by Max and Annie.

They will be joined by Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and his current muse Sarah (Sharon Horgan), as well as childhood sweethearts Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury). Brooks brings a very special game: an alarmingly realistic mystery involving him being kidnapped by gangsters, after which the players must follow faux-FBI clues to find him. Anyone who has seen David Fincher’s The Game can figure out what happens next.

There’s a pocket of genuine fun to be had in the moments between the game turning real and the characters’ subsequent realisation. But for the most part it’s dumb and predictable, lacking the balls to take it to the edge or the brains to really say anything about the alpha male rivalry at its core. Aiming low, it’s the kind of try-hard crowd-pleaser that can make you feel mirthless to be sitting in bored silence while the auditorium ripples with polite sniggers.

At the centre of this mess is the main couple. Bateman is doing his stolid thing – further evidence that he’s better suited to dramatic roles – while McAdams looks uncomfortable in a part that asks her to be insufferably wacky and cutesy one minute and a buttoned-up buzzkill the next. Their patter is jarring and they never come across as a convincing couple.

Worse still are the supporting characters. Airhead Ryan is a tiresome rehash of Friends’ Joey (whose tropes are looking pretty dated now), and Horgan is wasted in the role of Sarah, inexplicably attracted to him. Kevin and Michelle get a single running joke between them, culminating in a stultifying aside about Denzel Washington, pertaining to nothing.

Also painfully drawn out is the subplot involving Gary (Jesse Plemons), Max and Annie’s sad, lonely neighbour. Socially incompetent and crippled with the grief of losing his partner, everything involving Gary – specifically, the protagonists’ aggressive rejection of his company – is unfunny and cruel.

The script is a clunker, whatever attempts are being made to conceal its witlessness behind deadpan delivery. “Honey, I think you sewed my arm to my sleeve,” Max says at one point. Add an exclamation mark to that and a canned laughter track and you’ve got the makings of a bad American sitcom. The tone lurches from Paul Feig-wannabe overlapping wisecracks to Marx Brothers punnery (“The Bulgarian’s got a ton of moles!” / “On his face?”) to Zucker-esque slapstick to McG-style flashy fight scenes, all overlaid with an incongruent Cliff Martinez synth score which sounds like he’s auditioning for the next season of Stranger Things.

Now, the positives. The action is well-staged and excitingly edited. There’s a fantastic, single-take chase sequence in a mansion, where the cast outwit a bunch of security guards while playing American football with a Faberge egg. And there’s one good gaming-related joke where Max and Annie make a metaphor out of Pacman; whether they’re the kind of couple who should just munch the pills or go for the fruit.

But it’s not enough. The dialogue lacks intricacy, and it’s all very lightweight and forgettable, with frequent forays into deep cringe territory. Critically, the film suffers from a typically modern overdose of sarcasm which undermines any half-baked attempts at sincerity. It’s a bore, and one that will vanish from memory within hours.

Game Night is out in cinemas from 2 March 2018.

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