Don’t miss the first 10 minutes of “Game Night.” It’s where all the magic happens – and what the entire film should have been.
In the opening, we meet the couples who get together regularly to play games. They toss off snide comments, jab pop culture and look like the kind of folks we’d like to entertain.
Then Kyle Chandler shows up (as Jason Bateman’s rich, older brother) and spoils the fun by announcing he’s taking game night to another level. Sure enough, the regulars think they’re in one of those staged murder mysteries. The truth? There’s a real crime going on and the six have to solve it.
Bateman and Rachel McAdams (who really should do more comedies than Jennifer Aniston) play the lead couple – the ones who make sure there’s plenty of Tostitos and dip to go around. They’re keen on having longtime friends Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury) and Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and his squeeze of the night. But they’re not so hot on next-door neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons), who’s no longer married and doesn’t bring another player to the table.
He factors in, however, because he’s a police officer who just might be able to help them save lives, solve crimes and make it home in time to cut the cheese.
Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have a worthy premise but squander it once they bring in the idea that this is a game of life, not Life. Like “Rough Night” (which went south when the male stripper died), there’s a shroud hanging over some of the more interesting moments. “Game Night” gets in a sly reference to “The Purge” and isn’t afraid to let Bateman tweak his own past. But it has a little too much running and gunning for its own good.
When the gang is spirited to a mansion (where all sorts of things go on), this is no better than the big-screen edition of “Clue.”
Bateman and McAdams have great chemistry (handling charades better than anyone who has graced Jimmy Fallon’s late-night show) and timing. Had the back half of the script been a bit better, they could have parlayed this into a new partnership. Now, it’s a lot of “what could have been.”
The one who benefits most from the association is Plemons, who’s just creepy enough to make you think the script is better than it is. He plays off a dog quite nicely and isn’t afraid to look like an odd Matt Damon just to get laughs.
When he tells stories about the woman who got away, Plemons approaches Melissa McCarthy territory. He’s just that good.
Bunbury has a bit about a celebrity she slept with and that’s cute – to a point. But the payoff is worse than the 11th hour appearance by an actor who’s the mastermind behind much of the late-night shenanigans.
“Game Night” is funnier than you may think. It’s just not the comedy you want. Embrace those opening game sequences and know a lot of running around never beats a night at home with friends.