Director: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Danny Huston, Michael C. Hall, Kyle Chandler
Run Time: 100 mins
Game Night is the sophomore effort from directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein after directing the horrible Vacation and most recently writing Spider-Man: Homecoming, a pretty spotty record in all. They have also been tapped to direct the DCEU Flashpoint film, so a lot rides on this film to display their talent. Game Night certainly boasts a fresh premise – a comedy that follows some friends who often hold game nights where they play board games competitively. Board games have united Max and Anna, who are married and often host these nights with their friends. When Max’s brother, Brooks, comes to visit, he tries to one-up the couple whose game night turns into a very real murder mystery. Game Night has an impressive cast, featurng Jason Bateman, (playing to type) and Rachel McAdams (playing against type) as the central character, with Kyle Chandler and Jesse Plemons also in the film.
Game Night often strikes an awkward and obnoxious tone and ultimately, consistently misses its humour. I laughed perhaps four or five times, but it’s not enough when a film is supposed to be a comedy and most of the jokes don’t land. That said, the film does get certain elements right with its central premise and Daley and Golstein do have the right idea here with this film, as it is well directed but it’s a real shame that it cannot deliver on the comedy front. The narrative is also a complete and utter mess. Fairly quickly into the film, the mystery the characters find themselves in is utterly ludicrous and there are some late twists that make the film needlessly convoluted.
The cast are sound and admirable, but Jesse Plemons really shines here as Max and Anna’s next door neighbour, who has stopped being invited to their game nights. Plemons has consistently proved himself in his career, with excellent performances particularly in Black Mass, The Program and Hostiles, but here he proves a talent for comedy. Despite Game Night not being a particularly great film, if there’s one thing it can leave in its legacy is further audience recognition of this endlessly versatile actor.
Daley and Goldstein prove themselves in their direction as they try to do the best with the material. They clearly know how to shoot an action sequence and coupled with Barry Peterson’s cinematography, makes for some exciting set pieces. There is one moment in particular which is shot in one take which is utterly seamless. There are also repeated animations and images of the suburban street Max and Anna live in, which almost makes the street look like a board game, with characters seemingly moving spaces, further enhanced by Cliff Martinez’ tension-filled score.
Game Night is unfortuantely a disappointment and I don’t really understand the positive reviews as it mostly fails to conjure laughs and has a convoluted and unfocussed narrative. That said, it is mostly an exercise for Daley and Goldstein to prove their talent. If they can be as playful with the material and execution when it comes to a Flashpoint film, like they have displayed here, they would certainly be a good fit. They just need a solid script which scores with the humour, which this film consistently fails to do.