It’s rare for me to review a major Hollywood release in this column. Typically, I highlight lower-budget independent features. Nevertheless, I’m not a prude when it comes to mainstream movies, especially when it comes to comedies. I love watching well-crafted comedy films like the original “Ghostbusters” and “Happy Gilmore,” or more recently, “21” and “22 Jump Street.” There’s a real art to the comedy movie that requires equal amounts of witty dialogue and ingenious visual comedy. Films like these try things that are risky and produce a robust result. Most importantly though, they’re just good fun. So, does this weekend’s newest release “Game Night” accomplish this? Sort of.
“Game Night” is directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, and stars Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams and Kyle Chandler. The plot revolves around Max (Bateman) and his wife, Annie (McAdams), a game-savvy couple who regularly have their friends over for different game nights. When Max’s brother Brooks (Chandler) comes to town, he intends to stage a murder mystery game night, but when it turns all too real, they need to work together in order to save his brother from real criminals and murderers.
Overall, the story isn’t poorly told. The directing duo have spent most of their careers in Hollywood as screenwriters and wrote films like “Horrible Bosses” and “Vacation.” However, while most of the story is standard Hollywood fare, there are quite a few plot devices that appear at one part of the story, and then never appear again. Some of the plot details that get set up early in the film turn out quite nicely: one that concerned a plot twist around a police officer was funny. Another one that surrounded a joke made about how the rich have the poor fight to the death at their lavish parties was also quite good. Some of the other jokes left the viewer with a punchline that fell flat. There were even some plot points in this film that were simply left unresolved (including a particularly egregious one that directly centered on one of the main characters). There is also a lot of plot filler, which makes “Game Night” feel a lot longer than 90 minutes.
The film also relies heavily on dialogue, and this ends up being a mixed bag. The actors, particularly Bateman and McAdams, do the best they can with the material they’re given, but the jokes are incredibly hit-or-miss. Some of them really worked. Some of them flopped and were boring or unoriginal (e.g. the Trump jokes). One recurring joke involving a neighbor having a painfully awkward conversation with the main characters in the driveway, dragged on for what felt like an eternity. The jokes generally ended up playing into an inoffensive safe zone that nudged at the realm of edgy.
Because the film is so dialogue-heavy, there ends up being very little room for visual comedy. The closest that we get is a single-shot scene in a mansion where the main and supporting character are in a game of hot potato with an “egg” that contains information necessary to saving their brother. The scene is visually interesting, albeit unoriginal. Even the brief action scenes, which include a car chase and a shootout at an airport, both suffer from this same lack of visual innovation. The rest of the film is presented in a standard shot-reverse-shot style that never really engages or intrigues the viewer.
Some viewers might not mind this kind of comedy movie. They might like the fact that it could be considered easy viewing and that they will get the occasional light laugh out of it. For me, the film is too generic to be anything other than below average. I wish there was a version of this film that took risks, that tried to engage with the viewer on a more visceral level. I could imagine Sam Raimi rewriting this into a kind of “Evil Dead”-esque film that has all of the elements of an action movie, but stayed within the comedy genre. However, this isn’t what we got. Instead what we get is a film that, while hitting its marks on occasion, ultimately flounders and plays way too many games. I’m going to have to give this one a 4/10.