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‘Game Night’ Sacrifices Plot for Humor

2 STARS—Dir. John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

'Game Night' still
Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman star in "Game Night."

Surviving a mafia gang chase with fluff for brains is not an easy task, as the characters in “Game Night” consistently demonstrate. The film’s admittedly dogged attempt at lowbrow humor ultimately backfires due to its preoccupation with keeping its audience entertained, leading to unexplainable plot holes and underdeveloped characters.

While an interesting comedic take on the kidnapping mystery, the plot follows a relatively predictable pattern despite its twists, which arise so frequently they become expected. Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are a suburban couple who host weekend game nights in their home. Regular guests include Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and his latest fling, and married couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury). One night, Max’s smarmy, rich older brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler) invites the guests over for a more intense game night modeled after a murder mystery. After Brooks is kidnapped, the guests assume that his disappearance is just part of the game until they discover Brooks’ affiliation with the black market. What follows is a wild-goose chase for clues as the couples get caught up in their own relationship problems, a Fabergé egg, and a mafia hit list.

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Several parts of the plot unfold without follow-through, adding unnecessary confusion to an otherwise uncomplicated storyline. Max and Annie decide to exclude their neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons) from their game nights after his divorce for unbelievable reasons. What’s more unreasonable is Gary’s loyalty to his so-called friends. Despite being brutally shot in the head and miraculously coming back to life, Gary appears unfazed and still quietly fond of his friends whose recklessness led to his egregious gun wound. Not even the antagonist has any realistic motivation to be there: The Bulgarian, one of the mafia villains, should not be demanding valuable intel from Max and his friends, let alone kill them, especially when the intel is easily searchable on the Internet (as Max unintentionally shows).

In an attempt to compensate for its convoluted plot with twists that involve some variation of “Is this a game or not?” “Game Night” can’t hide the fact that without its humor, its unbacked storyline would be utterly uninteresting.

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Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of “Game Night” is its neglect of its promising cast. While Bateman convincingly portrays a deadpan man-child and McAdams once again proves her natural penchant for wit, their characters are the only ones that have any real substance. Morris’ and Bunbury’s characters—Kevin and Michelle, a couple grappling with Kevin’s jealousy issues—are reservoirs of untapped potential that deserve more screen time and more nuanced screenwriting than what they’re given in the film. Thankfully, Morris and Bunbury, who play a couple dealing with the boyfriend’s sexual jealousy, deliver their hackneyed roles as tastefully as possible. Despite their noticeable commitment to their roles, the supporting actors and actresses cannot make for their forgettable characters’ unoriginality.

“Game Night” would be funnier if it didn’t try so hard. The film milks certain (otherwise hilarious) jokes until their humor is sucked dry. An example is Kevin’s anger when he finds out that his girlfriend slept with Denzel Washington, only for both of them to discover that her one-night stand was with Denzel lookalike. This side story would have been hysterical if not for its long run, for which the joke ultimately lost its punch. Similarly, Magnussen’s dumb blonde persona is a running gag that turns too predictable, although his unexpected decision to bring an intelligent girlfriend to game night redeems some of his value as a comedic device.

Within its tight 93-minute run time, “Game Night” does manage to squeeze in an impressive amount of (attempted) humor. Its decision to budget most of its time delivering punchy one-liners and running gags, however, comes at the detriment of its uninspiring plot.

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