The joke of Game Night is a pretty simple one: The characters, who are the kind of characters who usually populate R-rated, ensemble-driven comedies, have been stuck in the kind of twisted thriller made popular by David Fincher. You know the kind - the mystery or puzzle whose pieces are ultimately the focus, much more than the solution to the puzzle. It is clear that one particular film by Fincher is the springboard for screenwriter Matt Perez, yet there is a kink in his design of this potentially clever concept: It might feature a cast of comic characters, but the movie reveals itself simply to be a twisted thriller.
The two concepts here are separate. The thriller plot moves forward around this cast of characters, who happen to intervene using their bumbling lack of skill and stumbling desperation to survive, and the characters push on as if what they are really the ensemble of is a typical studio comedy. In theory, there is no problem with this dichotomy, if inserting this cast into this plot is, in the process, saying something amusing about or doing something interesting with its cast or plot. That is where Perez and directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein falter, yet it is difficult to explain why the end result is as underwhelming as it is, particularly because it works so well as a comedy.
Part of why it works as well as it does in the comedy arena is the cast, although even here there are at least two characters too many. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star as Max and Annie, a couple whose shared competitiveness in game-night activities is so intense that they've fallen in love, gotten married, and planned for a family because of it (though Max learns that his motility in the baby-making department has, perhaps, suffered as a result). They host regular game nights, at which their married friends Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) and clueless ladies' man Ryan (Billy Magnussen) can also be found.
The plot finds the five players joined by Ryan's latest muse Sarah (Sharon Horgan) and Max' brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) in a game night to be remembered (Meanwhile, Max and Annie's stoic, off-putting, recently divorced cop neighbor Gary, played by a truly hilarious Jesse Plemons, looks on with jealousy). Brooks, who has been away overseas for his job as a venture capitalist, has coordinated with a company that hosts such events, which are said to be very authentic, so that when the gaming official (played by Jeffrey Wright) is attacked and Brooks kidnapped, the others think it is simply part of the game.
Needless to say, it isn't, and the group is sent on a series of wild, wacky adventures, bolstered by a cast (particularly Plemons, McAdams, and Chandler) who know exactly what they're doing, though the movie doesn't have much to do with Magnussen (Ryan's bumbling idiocy is his only sticking point) or Horgan (Sarah essentially admits she's not sure why she stays with this group for as long as she does). Eventually, the wackiness of the adventures is decisively squelched by the threat turning into a sincere one. This undermines the punch line of the first two acts of Game Night, reducing everything to a chase that is silly for non-comedic reasons and summing up that conflicting dichotomy in the process.
Jason Bateman (Max), Rachel McAdams (Annie), Lamorne Morris (Kevin), Kylie Bunbury (Michelle), Billy Magnussen (Ryan), Sharon Horgan (Sarah), Kyle Chandler (Brooks), Jesse Plemons (Gary), Michael C. Hall (The Bulgarian), Chelsea Peretti (Glenda), Camille Chen (Dr. Chin), Danny Huston (Donald Anderton), Zerrick Deion Williams (Val), Joshua Mikel (Colin).
Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein and written by Matt Perez.
Rated R (language, sexual references, violence).
Released on February 23, 2018.