Game Night and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
It’s not easy trying to release a movie in the wake of an overwhelming success like Black Panther or really ANY Disney movie nowadays, and the idea of Counter Programming (releasing a movie that targets an audience vastly different from whatever else is in theaters) is becoming an increasingly less viable route to go when success is as massive as these year round tent poles have become. With that said, it’s ALSO a common time to dump movies that the studio has little faith in as wasting a BETTER time slot in the year is the year would only make things that much worse for them. For me, seeing this trailer quite frequently in the last month or so, it looks to fall into the latter as the premise of the film and the gags they showed us wasn’t inspiring much hope in me that this was going to be much of a comedy classic, but I have been wrong before about movies and I’m like the ONLY guy who’s like Billy Magnussen in everything I’ve seen him in; and that’s including Birth of the Dragon! Does this action comedy bring the same fun and excitement you always hope to have whenever you have your own game night, or is this as exciting as playing Monopoly for two hours past the point everyone stopped caring? Let’s find out!!
Max and Anne (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams) are the picture perfect mid-thirties couple that LOVES playing board games on their weekly Game Night along with their friends Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury) as well as good ol’ Ryan (Billy Magnussen) who frequently brings new dates to Game Name with the latest being Sarah (Sharon Horgan) . OH, and uh… they used to invite the neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons) over to play with them, but no one likes to talk about Gary; especially after the divorce. ANYWAY, Game Night is the one thing that they all look forward to every week, but things start to run afoul this time around as Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) shows up out of the blue with his badass car and super smooth swagger to take over Game Night and make it an evening they will NEVER forget; something that gets Max rather pissy right off the bat. Oh, you know how brother are! Always trying to one up each other even when it comes to something as trivial as Trivial Pursuit! Brooks invites everyone over to his house to play one of those INTERACTIVE MURDER MYSTERY deals with actors pretending to be cops and robbers, but the party is crashed by ACTUAL robbers right off the bat; something that they REALLY should have realized was the case even if they were told this was going to be a big game. They don’t realize that these are REAL crooks invading the party and kidnapping Brooks though, but they will soon enough as they find out more and more about Brooks and just how much trouble he’s really in. Can Max, Anne, and their best buddies find a way to save Brooks before he gets two in the head? What will Max learn about his brother during this absurd quest, and what will he learn about… HIMSELF!? Anyone else feel like playing a game right now? King of Tokyo? Drop Mix? Yu-Gi-Oh?
The movie is… fine. It’s not great, it’s not terrible, it’s not TOO offensive, it’s just… fine. Honestly, I just can’t muster any enthusiasm one way or the other about this movie which I guess TECHNICALLY puts it above dreck like Daddy’s Home 2 or Dirty Grandpa, but merely clearing a bar THAT low doesn’t tell you much about what this movie IS; just what it ISN’T. It isn’t a poorly stitched together mess, and it isn’t a blight on these actors careers. It’s not swinging for the cheap seats or trying to replace genuine effort with shock value. It doesn’t star Adam Sandler or any of the Happy Madison crew which I think by now can be CHARITABLY labeled as a criminal street gang (for the crime of being unfunny!), or at the very least an unpleasant group of ne’er-do-wells. What it is ultimately is… fine. No one’s gonna care about this movie in two weeks, no one’s gonna remember it until it briefly shows up on Red Box or Netflix, and the only way you’ll ever see it again is on one of those cheap collections of actor specific movies where there’s maybe ONE you recognize and the rest are stuff like this; Just Fine is all it had any hope of aspiring to.
It’s never easy to pin down what works and doesn’t work about a comedy considering how subjective humor can be (unless you’re tone oblivious enough to cast Mel freaking Gibson in it), but I’d argue that this movie does itself no favors as the jokes, even if you DID find them funny, don’t really put in the effort to make them as enjoyable as they could be. Now I wouldn’t go so far as to say the jokes are LAZY (again, this is OBNOXIOUSLY middle of the road), rather I’d say that most of them have a decent premise behind them but are severely lacking in terms of execution; only committing to the bare minimum of effort necessary to illicit a mild chuckle. I guess there IS some ambition here in that it’s an action comedy and has things like chase scenes and at least one REALLY cool “single take” shot involving a game of high stakes Keep Away, but ultimately it’s not done well enough to justify its inclusion into an otherwise rather simple movie. The first act is the strongest here simply because we haven’t gone all in on these ordinary nobodies trying to play Liam Neeson Action Star and it plays off like a sensibly crafted comedy about people working through deep seated anxieties and personal fears during a particularly strenuous game night, but all that gets pretty much chucked out the window once we go all Keanu on the damn thing, and while that movie was by no means perfect, it’s STILL a heck of a lot better than what they come up with here. The more action oriented and over the top the movie gets, the less interesting it becomes because it doesn’t know what it wants to do beyond the bare minimum of what it needs to, and while that STILL means it’s somewhat watchable, you’re also not gonna get anything from it that you haven’t gotten in much better movies.
Now there ARE some ideas in here that get that little extra push, but most of these also fail due to some poor choices that undercut the humor. In particular, Jesse Plemmons plays a character who could have been funny in a better movie (heck, this character WAS funny in another movie when he was played by Ed O’Neill in Wayne’s World), but they fail to walk the fine line between hilariously off beat and uncomfortably creepy. Being awkward and nosy around your neighbors is one thing, but being obsessed with your ex-wife? It’s not what I’d call a laugh riot situation is all I’m saying. Neither is another subplot about one of the couples where the guy is confronted with something that challenges his sense of masculinity while seriously bruising his ego. It works pretty well for the first half of the movie, but then the jokes become more and more strained and it eventually ends on a really sour note that sucks out any good will I had for it and leaves the whole thing feeling and unpleasant and petty. It’s not TOO bad as far as these kinds of movies go, but the misogynistic undertones that the movie doesn’t even seem to realize are THERE seriously dampened what was already a rather underwhelming experience.
There are some things about this movie that I liked even if the majority of it was mediocre or miscalculated. Okay, even the GOOD stuff is still somewhat mediocre and miscalculated, but I stand by my statement that there are some bright spots here and there! Towards the end of the movie, the film more or less satirizes a similar film with a similar name and I thought it was REALLY effective; especially when things go TERRIBLY wrong in the way that the movie their satirizing somehow didn’t. There’s also a very talented actor who comes in right at the end to steal the show which is KIND OF annoying considering how much better this movie would have been if he was in it the whole time (heck, give THEM the Jason Bateman role!), but the only time I legitimately woke up in this movie was when he popped up on screen for seemingly no reason. There’s also some neat camera stuff here and there throughout with establishing shots looking like plastic models (going with the whole board game theme), and a few POV shots that focus in on unexpected environmental objects like a deadbolt lock. Um… what else… OH! I really liked Billy Magnussen Sharon Horgman in this movie and they have the funniest, if the most obviously tertiary, subplot in this. In fact, the entire cast is pretty solid in this movie with some great chemistry between them, but they all crying out for a much better film overall. Yeah, that’s about all I’ve got here. Like I said, I’ve rarely sat through a movie THIS banal both in terms of it not being BAD and yet being rather sedate and unengaging.
Look, just go see Black Panther again, alright? There’s no reason to watch this in the first place, let alone in a theater that’s ALSO showing Black Panther, so go do something more productive with your time than wasting it on this. Is it the worst thing in the world? No, but that alone doesn’t make it worth your time and energy. MAYBE you can find some mild enjoyment out of it sitting at home and vegging out with delicious pizza and mind numbing game on your phone, but other than that I can’t really say it’s worth the effort. Heck, trying to write this review of such a non-descript and ineffective movie is probably the most thought that anyone will put towards this movie, and even I could barely muster the energy to do so!