Game Night

Year: 2018
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: John Francis Daley/Jonathan Goldstein
Writer: Mark Perez
Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Sharon Horgan, Jesse Plemons, Billy Magnussen, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Michael C Hall, Danny Huston

By the time this film came out I'd got a bit tired of Jason Bateman's shtick. He was great in Horrible Bosses, but only because the thing he can do in his sleep at this point was relatively new, and because he had very lovable comic chemistry with co-stars Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day. But after Identity Thief, Office Christmas Party, The Change-Up, The Switch and all the rest of them, it got kind of old.

Bad Words and This Is Where I Leave You jostled against the pre-defined edges of a Jason Bateman comedy pretty admirably without really breaking out of it, and more recently he's shown some range with The Gift and Ozark, but four out of every five projects seem to be centred on this same sardonic, suburban schmoe who just wants to keep his head down and get ahead, reacting with barely concealed how-can-this-keep-happening-to-me contempt to the hijinks around him.

So it was hard to ignore how many of the critics who usually wouldn't give this kind of thing the time of day saying they liked it and laughed a lot, so I was intrigued enough to add it to my list. And like all the movies listed above the story here is kind of stupid. It's all about the gags, the script, the banter and the riffing.

Bateman is Max, who fell in love with and married the cute Annie (Rachel McAdams) over a shared obsession with games of every kind. Now living happily in the suburbs, their game nights with a usual cadre of friends are serious affairs for the ultra-competitive pair, and when Max's high-flying brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) blows in to make Max feel like an inadequate failure, he's going to move things up a notch.

Brooks tells the gang he's going to host game night in his swanky pad, and when everyone arrives and the festivities start, a guy from the FBI (Jeffrey Wright) arrives to tell them there are some dangerous criminals in the area. Halfway through his spiel two goons burst in, hit the guy over the head and start tearing up the place with Brooks fighting back in a home-destroying scene of fisticuffs.

They eventually overpower and gag Brooks and drag him out of the house to drive off into the night. Max, Annie and their friends, believing the assault was staged and it's all part of the elaborate game Brooks has organised, take off in all directions excitedly to start playing – especially since he's already said the prize is his prized Corvette.

Soon after they've all scattered the fake goons show up, the 'FBI agent' explaining that two guys burst in for real, beat up the guy who hired them for the game and dragged him off, apparently real gangsters. With no idea they're on the trail of a real crime, Max and Annie track Brooks down to a dive bar where he finally convinces them they're not in any game – he's been taken hostage for real and they're in real danger. The race is on to get to the bottom of it and save Brooks' life etc, etc, but none of that matters a jot, it's all plot mechanics to hang hijinks onto.

There are some bizarre subplots and asides, like how longtime couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) took a break years before and he's now obsessed with the single time she slept with someone else, but they somehow fit into the proceedings comfortably – maybe proof enough that the narrative itself doesn't really matter.

As many critics said there are plenty of laugh-out loud moments and even some (gasp) original comic ideas, so no matter how disposable it is once it's over you'll have a perfectly good time while it's on.

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