From the opening images we sense our entrance into an eccentric world with cool puzzle pieces for opening credits over a black and purple backdrop tracked with electro, ethereal and dark-wave synthesizer music composed by Cliff Martinez (Drive, Den of Thieves). This is a cool way to create a vibe and set us up for what we’re about to get into. Then we’re fed a montage of Max and Annie (Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams), hardcore board-game addicts who fall in love amid their mutual passion and competitiveness when engaged in playing. Stylish renditions of board games serve as full-screen transitions from scene to scene, depicting the unrealistic evolvement of Max and Annie’s love, leading up to a Pictionary match where Max falls to one knee and pops the big question. It’s at her inevitable, giddy response, where we’re given the title card of Game Night superimposed on the silver-screen, a film directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Vacation).
Max and Annie live in the cookie-cutter track housing suburbs. They have a creepy next door neighborhood who never takes off his cop uniform and it’s obvious he has something up his sleeve in an elongated close-up, after he probes Max and Annie for an invitation to their upcoming game night. Max and Annie invited him before, and, they don’t want this strange neighbor, who’s fresh off of a broken heart of his wife leaving him, to attend any of their game night parties anymore. We get a sense that he’s the false villain and will play a part later in this outrageous story, written with sharp-wit by Mark Perez (Accepted) using countless pop-culture references to Pulp Fiction, the Baldwin brothers, the Wahlberg brothers, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and even a surprising shout-out to Corey Feldman (The Goonies, The Lost Boys).
Max has a big brother name Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who’s planning on attending their most recent game night. Max dislikes his brother due to severe sibling competition stemming from their youth – a hackneyed theme, nevertheless. Brooks has something up his own sleeve when he invites the entire crew to his own game night in a mansion. Where Brooks introduces his new spin on the concept of ‘game night’. Max and Annie attend, and they’re introduced to Brooks’ twisted plan that, he’s hired professionals to break-in, kidnap someone, and nobody will know who gets chosen to be abducted. The survivors will be left with dossier’s and clues and whoever finds the victim wins the grand prize: the car keys to Brooks’ sting gray.
Suddenly, the door bursts open and Brooks gets his ass beat down. We can’t tell if it’s for real or not, and we’re left to wonder if this is actually a part of the game. Brooks gets abducted. The rest of the crew, in on the ‘game’, decide to follow the dossiers and track down Brooks using the plan. Annie has her own idea where she cleverly decides to track Brooks’ iphone. They follow him outside the city into a rugged bar and witness the kidnappers there. Max and Annie have an exchange of dialogue with the bartender when Max asks him if he’s seen his brother, describing him as “Kinda looks like me, but, higher cheek boned with a sharper chin”. The Bartender, a bad-ass red-neck tatted-up with sleeves responds, “So, a better lookin’ guy?” We’re reminded that we’re watching that kind of movie.
Let’s solve this twisted game night, an outlandish plot not meant to be taken serious that tries really hard to make you laugh, leading up to a climax between Max and Brooks laying face-flat on the cement and held at gunpoint. Where they give us the scene of why I think we go to the movies: that climactic dramatic moment between two characters interchanging emotion through their expressions and dialogue over an insistent score. In this case, it’s a touching scene between the two brothers and their distant relationship since birth. It’s a pure cinematic moment that gives us an example that serves as the reason we watch movies, and that reason is to experience emotion.
The cinematography is shot unpretentiously by Barry Peterson (Zoolander) with natural angles that don’t call attention to themselves, with the exception of a scene where the prized possession of an egg is captured from a safe and the group of friends crash an underground rich man’s party. Max, Annie and company throw this egg around the mansion and it’s all shot in one-take as we follow the egg around the house being chased by a big beast of a fighter who just finished brawling, chasing them around the house. This scene represents the entire vibe of the film: an adventurous and ridiculous murder mystery.
It’s obvious to anyone who’s familiar with great movies of past that Game Night was heavily inspired by David Fincher’s The Game. Though this film is about a group of friends who meet regularly for game nights and find themselves trying to solve a murder, the storyline of Max and his torn relationship with his older, taller, more handsome brother Brooks, is what carries the story forward. In David Fincher’s The Game, a moneyman (Michael Douglas) is given an opportunity to participate in a mysterious game, offered as a gift from his younger brother (Sean Penn), then his life is flipped when he’s unable to tell the difference between what’s play and what’s for real, only to find out in the film’s climax that his little bro – who he’s had a rival relationship with – was in on “the game” the entire time. Not quite the same plot, but, whether this was the writers influence, the plot of a man hiring professionals to mock a real-life kidnapping in a game for his brother has been done before, and done in a serious, dramatic and suspenseful way that exposed the human condition on screen to a degree incomparable to Game Night, which is all comedy.
This is the perfect film for a date night where you just want to kick-back at the movies or chill on the couch. It’s always worth the price of admission, Netflix or Prime to sit down and view Jason Bateman go to work in his performances of lines delivered with perfect timing. I definitely enjoyed Cliff Martinez’s electronic synth ethereal musical score and it’s always a sight for sore eyes to watch Rachel McAdams smile, which she gives us plenty of.
Although, I must ask, do want to see a superior film about what’s play and what’s for real? Check out or revisit David Fincher’s The Game. A serious-minded film written and directed humorlessly.