Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams lead an excellent ensemble in this raucous comedy caper
'You're not Liam Neeson,' Annie (Rachel McAdams) reminds husband Max (Jason Bateman) as he prepares to get stuck into some ill-advised action. This raucous, big-budget comedy caper riffs on Taken and David Fincher's The Game; directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Vacation) keep things peppy, benefitting hugely from a pumped, overqualified ensemble that mine a commendable amount of laughter from a so-so script.
Max and Annie are a competitive couple who are having trouble conceiving. Stress caused by Max's rivalry with his wildly successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) is identified as a factor by a fertility doctor, who ultimately tries to wangle a date with said sibling. The pair regularly get together with pals for the eponymous evening in, but when Brooks suggests eschewing board games for a murder mystery night involving actors and a fake kidnapping, the line between the staged shenanigans and real-life threats becomes dangerously blurred.
The slick, rapid-fire feel puts Game Night in a class above many other studio comedies, and it has fun playing with horror and thriller tropes and ramping up the early tension. The initially interesting visual shtick uses aerial photography and smartly employed CGI to imagine Max and Annie's suburban home as a piece on a giant board game.
A spirited McAdams and a typically withering Bateman make an appealing double-act and Chandler clearly relishes letting his hair down, yet it's Jesse Plemons that steals the show as creepy cop neighbour Gary, who over-strokes his cat like a Bond villain, obsesses over his ex and has a bodies-in-the basement type vibe. There's a nicely OTT cameo from Jeffrey Wright too as a not terribly convincing FBI agent who sets proceedings in motion, while Sharon Horgan, Billy Magnussen and Chelsea Peretti add value, although Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury are saddled with a long-running, often unfunny gag about a marital indiscretion, which at least has a decent punch-line.
For most of its duration, Game Night is a hoot, yet over-competitiveness on the filmmakers' part is ultimately their undoing. They can't resist going bigger and bigger, even when the rote action starts jeopardising the comedy and their film's identity, acknowledging such overstepping by making us aware that they're deliberately jumping the shark. That's all very well, but why not simply quit while you're ahead?
General release from Fri 2 Mar.