Review: Game Night (2018)

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Wanna play a game?: Access Entertainment/Aggregate Films

GAME NIGHT is an unexpected delight. Something that could just be raucous and crude in the hands of the guys behind the VACATION remake from a couple of years back ends up being not only a really sharp comedy but a seriously polished action film as well. DC time-travel extravaganza FLASHPOINT might not turn out so bad if John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein stick with it.

Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) found each other through their love to win. At the latest of their game nights with their friends, Max’s alpha older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) arranges for something a little more special: a simulated kidnapping. But when real criminals come after Brooks in revenge for dodgy deals gone wrong, Max, Annie and their fellow players will need more than a competitive spirit to get through the night.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an action-comedy (outside of comic adaptations) where the action is this good. The choreography and blocking of the fights and chases throughout the film is slick and creative as our players get way, and then way more, over their heads. One of the film’s standout sequences is an ambitious long-take of the characters being chased around a mansion tossing a Faberge Egg to each other, and it may well be even better executed than the casino fight in BLACK PANTHER.

There were shots in this I’ve never seen before (the shot turning in time with a lock, a crane shot weaving side-to-side in time with a swerving vehicle) and there’s a general gloss and precision to the whole enterprise. There must be a BEETLEJUICE influence here with the shots of model neighbourhoods from afar blending into real locations in closeup each time we move to a new location, and this playfulness makes for a nice contrast with all the violence.

The gags come thick and fast and the cast, epecially McAdams (Annie is sweary, bouncy, a bit scary), Billy Magnussen (Ryan is beaming, excitable, scarily stupid) and Jesse Plemons (Officer Gary is robotic, prone to melting into shadows, scariest) all sell the hell out of their characters. The group are split off into their respective pairings for much of the story and play off each other in some really entertaining ways. The scene of McAdams forced to do DIY surgery on an injured Bateman in an alley using an online tutorial on a phone that keeps going to sleep is something to behold, a comic set piece that’ll take some beating.

Not everyone is equally well served (Sharon Horgan is mostly reduced to grimacing at Magnussen) and Bateman doesn’t exactly have to stretch himself, but it must be difficult to divvy up memorable moments between such a varied ensemble. There isn’t really a weak link in the cast, unless like me you’re allergic to Danny Houston (thankfully he’s only in it for a scene).

I can’t think of many comedies (action-leaning or otherwise) where I’m considering buying the soundtrack. Clint Mansell’s 80s synthy momentum-builder is seriously effective and memorable. They’re clearly aiming for a franchise, with strong branding from the animated opening credits onward, added to the distinctive look and sound of the film. They’re certainly sequel-baiting at the end (mild spoiler: Kyle Chandler doesn’t learn his lesson) and with this group of characters, I’d quite happily go for at least one more of these. I just hope they can keep it fresh and give every performer chance to shine. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright, Taika Waititi and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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