Ok, full disclosure, I picked Game Night for the very specific reason that the trailer led me to believe the film might have some interesting twists. The film potentially has an interesting concept and while the trailer did not completely sell me, I thought it could go so either way, it might be worth a watch.
The film is directed by the team of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the writing team behind Spiderman Homecoming, which is a film I rather enjoyed, however, they have not been involved in writing credits, that credit goes to Mark Perez, a rather hack writer, who hasn’t done any work in eight years! His last job being writing and directing, from what I have heard, the rather average TV movie Black Nine, but this guy’s credits also include developing the story for Herbie Fully Loaded and writing the screenplay for the awful Country Bears movie.
So, the question really comes, did Game Night have it’s interesting twists or was it another bland American comedy like I was expecting.
Filmed about a couple, Max and Annie, played by Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams respectively, an overly competitive couple who are brought together by their love of games of all sorts, board games, trivia games, video games, you name it. They host regular game nights, however, Max’s brother Brooks, played by Kyle Chandler takes over hosting duty for once and sets up a murder mystery themed party. He invites the other members of the group, including Ryan played by Billy Magnussen who is partnered with work colleague Sarah played by Sharon Horgan and husband and wife team Kevin and Michelle, played by Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury. They are told that one member of the group is going to get taken by a team of actors and it is the other’s job to find them. However, after Brooks is taken, the group realise that it is not a play and he has genuinely been taken and it races on to get Brooks back and deal with the kidnappers.
Ok, if you are going into this expecting there to be anything more than what you are expecting, for this film to be really smart and blur lines of what is real and what is not, don’t!! The film firmly establishes early on what is real and what isn’t and it never makes much of a play to separate the two out. In fact, the film is very un-original, but it is at least very candid in that, since it makes a lot of references to the movies it is parodying, with the exception of the David Fincher movie The Game, which it is very clearly trying to live up to, someone should tell these directors that they are not David Fincher! You know when people say that films feel like they are coming off a factory line, this is one of the films they are talking about. Ok, granted, some films can bar the trend, some have already come out this year, however, I am not certain this is one of them. This definitely feels like it should have come out in the January/February dread to make fact that there was little competition. It should not have been coming out the same time that Black Panther was in cinemas, which I think will ultimately lead to its failure at the Box Office.
Game Night feels like many other American comedies that are out like it, if you have seen a lot of American comedies, this is nothing different. Sharon Horgan may be the exception to the rule since she is the only non-American cast member of the group, but her casting feels like its pandering to International audiences, which they never should have tried for in the first place. That’s not to say I dislike all American comedies, far from it, some of my favourite comedy films came from America and some of these films buck the trend. Game Night is not one of them, this is one of those films you would expect Jason Bateman to be in. He plays these roles with a real smug depreciation to him, as in, he knows this isn’t great, but this is the sort of role he can play. Bateman is fine in this role, he suits comedy quite well, but I am beginning to feel that the films he is appearing in are becoming so ‘samey’, they are beginning to merge into one. In case anyone wants an example of an American comedy that bucks the trend I kind of enjoyed, then look no further than the Dwaine Johnson, Kevin Smith vehicle Central Intelligence, which, while nothing great was better than I was expecting it to be.
Now I sound like I am bashing the film, but I am not doing that. There are some genuinely funny jokes in this film, I probably laughed to at least half of the, but the gags don’t exactly work all the time, because they are too broad and often don’t make much sense, or the running gags will go on too long. The particular case being a fight between Kevin and Michelle over discovering that Michelle slept with a celebrity and Kevin trying to guess which one it is, is particularly groan inducing since it goes absolutely nowhere. There are also a few gags that are so signposted, but they are just waiting for the actors to walk into it. Rachel McAdams particularly gets a few of these and you feel so sorry for her, she is a genuinely good actress that you wonder what she has done being reduced to this. In the short, when the gags hit, they hit well, when they miss, they miss by a mile and there are more misses than hits. If I was to talk about a big hit, it would be Jesse Plemons role as the creepy neighbourhood cop Gay who wants to get invited to the Games Night since his wife divorced him. He is a scene stealer in every single scene he is in, because Jesse clearly understands that gags like this are done best when actors play it straight. One of my big problems with American comedy films is that they are often scripted so that the characters know what they are doing is funny, which reminds me of the great Eric Morcambe quote, which he said to Andre Previn before their famous sketch, which as “we three must not know that what we are doing is funny, no matter what” ! That’s not to say that I think British comedies are better, oh no, we have exactly the same trappings, we just do it differently. For example, I am very sick and tired of British cringe comedy of “oh isn’t this an embarrassing situation”, it got old real fast.
My particular problem with this one, however, is it is a film that pretends it is smarter than it is. This film is never going to reach Gone Girl heights of layers upon layers of plot and the film never pretends it’s gone that far, but it does pretend it’s smarter than it really is. I think this film would have done better had it been a bit more broader in certain areas, but it ultimately feels like it is trying too hard. This is definitely in the casting of Kyle Chandler, who is a fantastic actor, who deserves way better than to be in this and is clearly not bringing his A material into this role. For god’s sake man, I saw you in Manchester By the Sea and you were fantastic in that movie. What happened here??
The film is the height of stupidity towards the end. Granted, there is an excellent scene involving sneaking a Faberge Egg out of a rich tycoon’s house that involves a fantastic running shot that has had some very good editing done to make it look like it was shot in one take, you might have fooled me if you hadn’t made some of the cuts a bit obvious, including one that was particularly obvious!! However, it then tries to have a few twists, which ultimately fail the film and by the ending resolution, feel entirely pointless. Even Jesse loses what was funny about him at this point, for Christ’s sake man, you were great in Black Mirror and Black mask and you were doing so well here, what happened?? The ending felt ultimately stupid and like nothing had been accomplished. Plus, the cameos were really strange. Danny Huston makes an appearance in the film and seems like he not bothered to be there at all and Dexter himself, Michael C Hall shows up for about ten minutes, only to be completely wasted and given absolutely nothing funny to do.
The acting all around is rather decent at times and I have seen these actors be funny in other things, but they don’t tend to do so well here. Sharon Horgan for example is very funny in most of her British TV appearances that I have seen her in, however, here, she is not given enough good material to work with and despite being partnered with Billy Magnusson, they don’t have very much chemistry on screen and they are a very unbelievable couple. As a result of all this, the film might have a few laughs, but it is ultimately rather a mess.
Game Night is ultimately a film that pretends it is different to its contemporary’s tries way too hard and only has so many good gags in it. It is not a terrible movie by any stretch of the imagination, it did have a few funny moments, but it ultimately feels like a rather flawed and devoid experience that you are going to forget very quickly. It’s not helped by the fact that the film is trying too hard to be a parody of David Finch’s The Game, without really understanding what made that film as good as it did. As a result, it is a mess. Whilst I do respect parts of it, it really does not deserve it’s eighty-two percent on Rotten Tomatoes, something is up with that score!
Well if you think that is enough for me and comedy for a while, then don’t hold your breath, next week I am going to be talking about another comedy film, based on a trailer that looked very good for me, in what I reckon will be a very interesting film as I see Gringo, starring David Oyelowo.
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