‘Game Night’ Review: Jesse Plemons steals this otherwise forgettable studio comedy

It is February, my dudes, and I must inform you that Studio Comedies are back on their grab-dollars-from-the-lowest-common-denominator bullshit in full force with Game Night, a film by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the gents who brought you Horrible Bosses. Well, I mean, the screenplay for Horrible Bosses, but they know what they did.

It’s an action-comedy riff on David Fincher’s The Game and other movies of the sort, where participants in an experiential murder mystery find out that the game they thought they were playing isn’t a game after all. Or maybe it is. Who knows? It’s got a decently funny screenplay and a solid cast, but it’s been less than 24 hours since I saw it and it’s already starting to fade away into the great brain miasma known as “disposable studio comedy.”

Much like last year’s Happy Death Day, this is a sort of genre parody of a significantly more memorable film, though instead of Michael Douglas and Sean Penn as a pair of brothers (casting decisions that, in hindsight, might cause Fincher’s movie to be less seen after this current era in Hollywood), we have Jason Bateman and Kyle Chandler as Max and Brooks, two brothers who have a weirdly antagonistic and competitive relationship. Max has always been a dude who likes winning games of all shapes and sizes — it’s how he met his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams), after all — and their weekly game nights are a staple of their routine. Their pals always attend: Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunburry), a couple who has been together since they were 14, and Ryan (Billy Magnussen), an agreeably charming doofus who brings his current girlfriends to game night, even though it often causes him to lose at everything. They always avoid inviting their creepy neighbor, a former participant named Gary (Jesse Plemons), a cop who has slowly began to unravel in the time since his divorce.

One week, Brooks, a wealthy venture capitalist, suggests he should host it at his place. When they all gather, he reveals to them that they’re actually going to be participating in a game in which someone will be kidnapped and the others will have to find them via a series of clues and riddles. Everything seems to be going as planned until two men break in and, after a lengthy fight, kidnap Brooks and beat up the “FBI Agent” (Jeffery Wright) sent to look over the proceedings. And soon, the players realize they might not even be playing a game in the first place!

Oh man! What a twist!

The cast is agreeable, though the always-wonderful Plemons steals the movie from everybody else, just by virtue of his monotone and creepy delivery of some overtly verbose dialogue and his bizarre relationship with his ex-wife and dog. That aforementioned theft includes his former Friday Night Lights co-star Chandler, who always relishes a chance to play the unscrupulous heel in serious fare of varying quality (The Spectacular Now being the best of them), and he’s a swell contrast to the sweaty Bateman, whose anxieties and smarmy nature are played up to 11 here (even though his mid-film conflict about having children never amounts to anything, and the resolution of his arc is middle-age wish fulfillment at its most egregiously manipulative). McAdams has a nice chemistry with her on-screen husband, though they’re only given one true scene to shine — in which she tries remove a bullet from his arm with a bottle of chardonnay for antiseptic and a squeaky-toy for Bateman to bite down on — even that is all over the trailers.

Their other big feature — an opening montage about their relationship’s origins — is saddled with Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” and suffers in comparison to its usage in Shaun of the Dead. The other couples fare less well (and Magnussen, who killed in Ingrid Goes West and helped to anchor the beautifully homoerotic Birth of the Dragon, is utterly wasted aside from a single great gag with Chelsea Peretti), though Morris and Bunbury get an agreeably silly running joke about celebrity infidelity, the resolution to which is a gag on the same scene-stealing level of the “astronaut lady” bits from last year’s equally forgettable Rough Night. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Regarding the direction, there are Fincher-ian flourishes strewn about left and right, though the most visible of those outside of the obvious are the tilt-shift focus location shots, which feel ripped straight from The Social Network. They look less cool here than they did in that film, but they’re effective enough in grounding us in the suburban sameness of the locations, and makes them feel like sections of a game board. The action beats are surprisingly competent if not totally generic (Luc Besson’s ass must be pretty chapped given that he never really figured out how to make that combo work in his favor), though there’s always enough jokey moments to remind you that you’re watching a Studio Comedy In A Movie Theater and not some bizarre TNT show you stumbled upon in a stoned stupor at three in the morning.

And, much like an episode of Bones or NCIS watched with half-closed eyes and pepperoni pizza bites in your mouth, you’re not going to really remember this one after you go to bed that night. Hell, I had to control-f this review to see if I called this movie Date Night instead of Game Night in writing this up, just because I keep getting the two confused. So, this isn’t bad! You could do significantly worse at the movies right now, and while not as memorable as, say, Girls Trip, if you really don’t want to chance your boyfriend running screaming bloody murder out of the theater during Annihilation, Game Night might be a great choice.

Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus. Featured image by Warner Bros.