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I am a big fan of cleverly constructed opening credit sequences. So much can be accomplished with effective opening credits. They can set the tone and feeling for the entire film.
The opening sequence for Game Night does just that. Lighthearted and clever, the cascading game pieces and production company titles flow nicely into a pleasant prologue that flows, nicely (do you see a theme developing?) into a perfectly nice, if relatively unsurprising movie.
While the publicity campaign around Game Night highlights the fact that it comes from the producers of Horrible Bosses, do not confuse the edgy and over-the-top, borderline tasteless comedy of that movie with the fairly predictable, fairly safe humor in Game Night. There is nothing wrong with the tone Game Night sets. But the movie is not Horrible Bosses. Game Night plays things a little too safe.
The movie is a uneven in a couple of ways. While there are some truly creative approaches to cinematography (establishing shots of cars and house look more like long shots of playing pieces on game boards to name one), the overall direction is fairly straightforward and uninspired. And the plot of the movie itself seemed as though it could have been allowed to stand on its own: a game night, kidnapping mystery interrupted by a real kidnapping is a clever set up. What happens in Game Night is burdened by the weight of too many twists that are intended to land as surprises with the audience but end up feeling far too predictable.
Game Night enjoys the success it has because of two factors: its winning leads and a couple of gut-busting, laugh-out-loud sequences.
Rachel McAdams is such an underrated actress. Excellent in both drama and comedy, it seems that her reputation is not as sterling as it should be and it is unclear why that is. She is terrific here as Annie, loving wife, yoga practitioner and brilliant game-player. She has the task of playing counter-point to Jason Bateman’s Max and she does so very, very well. Where an actor of less skill than McAdams might attempt to balance Bateman’s sardonic dryness with too much energy, McAdams finds just the right notes to play.
Jason Bateman has made a career of playing men like Max and that should be read as a compliment. I do know of another actor who gets more out of less – less volume, less energy, less expression – than Bateman does. His line readings are spot on and he seems to ever be a step ahead of the, well, game and smarter than almost anyone in any room, save, perhaps, McAdams’ Annie.
The two have great chemistry and should put their people to work searching for another vehicle for them in which to star. Game Night 2, anyone?
There are a number of sequences in Game Night that are the kind of oh-my-God, I cannot catch my breath scenes that great comedies require. Three are immediately memorable and, though they have each been thoroughly mined by the trailers for the movie, they still contain enough juice that they feel fresh as they unspool. One wants to see these scenes again as soon as they wrap, so good are they. However, Game Night simply does not have enough of these seismic guffaws to be a truly great modern comedy and, though McAdams and Bateman are ably supported by a winning cast (Jesse Plemons odd Gary and the terrific Kylie Bunbury among them), there is neither enough originality nor laughs to call Game Night great.
It is good, though, and there are worse ways to spend a few hours at the movies.
Unless you decide to go see Black Panther again.
GAME NIGHT receives THREE AND A HALF BLOODIED DOGS out of a possible FIVE.