Game Night contains one of the single funniest moments I’ve ever seen on film. I can say nothing more than it features a weeping bullet wound and a blameless snowy-white terrier. It’s a scene that unfolds with increasing frenzy, building to a crescendo of absurdity, until it practically defies you to stop laughing.
Game Night, one of the best comedies in quite some time, is pitched, if not at that level, then very close to it for much of its running time. It isn’t particularly original, but what it does it does with zeal and aplomb, charging headlong into insanity with zero concern that none of it is even remotely plausible.
Indulge me for a moment while I explain: Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman play Annie and Max, a married couple for whom weekly game night functions as a sort of exorcism. Competitive and more than a little smug, Annie and Max love to win, overachieving at Pictionary in a way that borders on obnoxious and leaves little room for victory for their friends, Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury), high school sweethearts who are about to see their love tested by a celebrity run-in, and Ryan (Billy Magnussen), who gives new and inventive meaning to the word ‘dumb.’
One night, Max’s rich and supercilious older brother, Brooks, announces he’ll be hosting next week’s game night at his palatial estate. But this will be no ordinary game night: Brooks has arranged a murder-mystery of sorts, where one of the guests will be kidnapped and the others have to solve the crime. When Brooks is kidnapped for real, Max, Annie and their friends find themselves putting their best game-playing abilities to the test. To say that the whole thing goes horribly, hilariously wrong would be an understatement.
Suffice it to say that Game Night features a gun that no one seems to realize isn’t a fake, a fight in a kitchen in which literally every chair and utensil is thrown, a pregnant office worker with a bullet hole in her head (don’t ask), a Fabergé egg, a hitman codenamed The Bulgarian, an underground fight club, the indispensable Jesse Plemons as Max and Annie’s creepy next door cop neighbor, the aforementioned snowy-white terrier, and a nasty incident involving an airplane turbine. And believe me, that’s giving nothing away.
How these elements tie together is a lot of fun and completely absurd. Try to get it all to make sense in your head and you’ll drive yourself nuts, because in the end, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that all the actors—especially Bateman, McAdams, and Magnussen—are having a whole lot of fun with their roles. Magnussen, in particular, goes for broke as the simple, if supremely stupid, Ryan, who makes one bone-headed decision after another, all the while smiling as if waiting for an approving pat on the head. And Sharon Horgan, as Ryan’s date for the night, gets a lot of mileage out of poking incredulous fun at Ryan’s revolving door of idiocy.
I always love surprises like Game Night. You walk into a theater knowing almost nothing about a movie, and walk out with a goofy grin plastered across your face because you’ve had such a great time. It may not say anything particularly profound, but it doesn’t need to. Its strength is in allowing us to sit back in a seat for a couple of hours, forget what’s going on in the world outside and just laugh freely—and in my case, way too loudly.