By Micah Walker
Comedies haven’t been doing well at the movies lately. According to The Hollywood Reporter, only two comedies saw box office success last year: “Girls Trip” and “Daddy’s Home 2,” with 31.7 million and 30 million respectively. Other comedies from 2017 like “Rough Night,” “Baywatch,” and “The House” flopped, even with big names such as Scarlett Johansson, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Will Ferrell.
With the financial and critical success of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” it looks like comedy films are slowly becoming popular with moviegoers again. The latest mainstream comedy release, “Game Night,” has its flaws, but is overall an entertaining ride.
The movie follows Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), two competitive types who bond over their love of games. During the opening credits, the two meet at a bar trivia night where they give the correct answer for the name of a character from Teletubbies. Max and Annie look across the room at each other, forming an instant attraction. From then on, the scene is a montage of their love story, which consists of making out in the subway, and of course, several game nights. Max even proposes to Annie during a game of charades.
The now married couple continue to host weekly game nights with another couple, Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), along with their pal Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and his date of the week, which usually involves clueless Instagram models.
Abruptly, Max’s wealthy, suave brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) rolls into town and announces he’s hosting a game night of his own and that it will be “one to remember.” Held at his upscale rental house, Brooks reveals the game is a murder mystery with a kidnapping plot. However, the “actors” he hired to set up the kidnapping aren’t actors at all, and the gang soon enters a state of confusion trying to decide whether the events are real or made up.
Supporting players include Jesse Clemons as Gary, a creepy cop that was kicked out of game night and wants desperately to be back in and Sharon Horgan as Sarah, Ryan’s date and smart, charming co-worker.
The chemistry between Bateman and McAdams is exciting and believable, as they seem natural playing kooky, competitive spouses. McAdams in particular looks like she is having a blast. Not having starred in a comedy movie since “Mean Girls,” her comedic chops have not gone stale and she is entertaining to watch. One scene where the two actors shine is when Max gets shot and Annie attempts to remove the bullet with drinking alcohol, a squeaky toy, and instructions she found on her phone. The payoff is hilarious, especially when Max tells Annie she should change the auto-lock settings on her phone so she won’t mess up the procedure.
Another standout is Clemons. He has the characteristics of a creeper down pat, including the death stare. Every time Clemons appears on screen it’s slightly uncomfortable. In Gary’s first appearance in the film, Max and Annie’s next door neighbor steps out of his house as soon as the couple comes home from the grocery store. He immediately asks if they are having a game night, with the couple terribly lying about it.
While Morris and Bunbury also have great chemistry together, their storyline falls flat. Kevin spends the majority of the movie questioning Michelle about a celebrity she slept with. Though the running gag is funny initially, the joke goes on too long and eventually becomes annoying. It isn’t until Michelle finally reveals the celebrity that the joke pays off. I wish the couple had more screen time and more material to grapple with other than a secret revealed during a game of Never Have I Ever.
Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, along with writer Mark Perez, keep the laughs going in “Game Night,” but there is a lack of character development. All of the main players are one dimensional characters: Max and Annie are the odd couple, Kevin and Michelle are the normal couple, Ryan is the dumb one, Gary is the creepy loner. I’m sure Perez, Daley and Goldstein were more interested in the situations the characters get into rather than development, but it would have been nice to know more about the characters instead of just their love for games. So when it is revealed that Max and Annie have fertility problems, the plot feels forced, as if Perez needed to add something realistic to an otherwise over-the-top comedy.
Despite its holes, Game Night is fun and full of laughs, making it somewhat of a winner.