Film Review: Game Night funnier and smarter than it initially lets on

Irish comedy actress and writer Sharon Horgan and Billy Magnussen in Game Night
Damon Smith

TRIVIAL pursuits escalate into life-or-death gambles in a rollicking comedy thriller co-directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, which is funnier and smarter than it initially lets on.

After a largely depressing year for broad Hollywood comedies save for the potty-mouthed hysteria of Girls Trip, Game Night deals us a winning hand full of likeable characters, uproarious set-pieces and snappy dialogue laden with pop culture references.

Screenwriter Mark Perez orchestrates a madcap murder mystery in sleepy American suburbia, where middle-class couples congregate to play competitive charades and Scrabble while swigging glasses of chardonnay and tucking into a cheese board.

Max (Jason Bateman) and his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams) are board game fiends, who first locked eyes over a double-points pub quiz question about the Teletubbies.

The loving couple have mastered Trivial Pursuit but they are clueless when it comes to expressing their feelings about parenthood.

Instead, Max and Annie host regular game nights for their friends, including married couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) and dim-witted pal Ryan (Billy Magnussen) plus whichever pneumatic bimbo he has picked up that week.

Max's flashy older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) returns unexpectedly to the neighbourhood and offers to host the next game night.

The friends arrive as instructed and are pleasantly surprised to discover that Ryan has invited intelligent co-worker Sarah (Sharon Horgan) as his date.

"Someone in this room is going to be taken," teases Brooks. "Whoever finds the victims wins the grand prize," he continues, jangling a set of keys to a gleaming red 1976 Corvette Stingray.

Sure enough, an actor (Jeffrey Wright) posing as an FBI agent arrives at the front door with cryptic clues, followed by two masked men, who snatch Brooks after an expertly staged fight.

Except the kidnapping is real and Max, Annie and the gang are now in a race against time to rescue Brooks from gun-toting thugs without arousing the suspicions of the cop (Jesse Plemons), who lives next door with his trusty pooch Bastian.

Game Night whirls violently from slapstick to turbo-charged action via heartfelt confessional. Some of the gear changes are a little jarring and the needlessly convoluted plot threatens to trump plausibility in the film's deranged final act.

Thankfully, the winning chemistry of Bateman and McAdams papers over the cracks while Plemons mercilessly scene-steals as the socially awkward neighbour who yearns for an invite to one of Max and Annie's soirees.

Perhaps he'll get to roll the dice in a sequel.

GAME NIGHT (15, 100 mins) Comedy/Thriller/Romance/Action. Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Kyle Chandler, Jeffrey Wright. Directors: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley

RATING: 7/10

Released: March 2

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