Although it’s not the most memorable comedy, Game Night is funny enough to make a trip to the multiplex worth it. Directors John Francis Daly and Jonathan Goldstein learned from their forgettable release (the 2015 reboot Vacation) and returned with an action-comedy that capitalizes on the charm and chemistry of its co-leads, Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams. This entry, written by Mark Perez (2006’s Accepted), also stars Kyle Chandler, Sharon Horgan, Billy Magnussen, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury and Jesse Plemons, and centers around a family and friends game night which is taken up a few notches to dangerous and hilarious levels.

Bateman and McAdams play married couple Max and Annie, and they are competitive in everything they do. They met during a game night and locked eyes the moment they simultaneously answered the same Teletubbies question. From that moment the pair fell in love and now lives the seemingly perfect life.

Well, almost perfect. Max and Annie want to have a family and all that stands in the way is Max’s inferiority complex. Max can’t step out from under the shadow of his better-looking, successful older brother, Brooks (Chandler). Brooks is visiting and takes a break from his busy venture capitalist work life to impress Max and Annie’s friends at his sibling’s expense. Brooks pokes fun of Max’s house, tells his friends of Max’s embarrassing childhood stories and generally steps all over his younger brother. Brooks even hijacks game night, an event Max and Annie always host, by having one at the mansion he’s renting. And in true sibling rivalry fashion Brooks looks to one-up Max by offering a game night in which someone from the group will be kidnapped (staged, of course) and the remaining participants have to solve the “crime.” Brooks throws in a tasty prize to the winner for good measure – a classic Corvette Stingray. All of this is all fine and good until actual criminals show up and kidnap Brooks. Max and Annie, along with their friends Ryan (Magnussen), Kevin (Morris), Michelle (Bunbury) and Sarah (Horgan), observe admiringly as Brooks is abducted - uniformly impressed with the authenticity and realism. It’s not long before they realize that the kidnapping is real, and now the gang has to find Brooks before things get more complicated and dangerous.

The traditional comedy concept is outdated and now comedies typically have to be presented combined with another genre. Action-comedies have proven the most successful, so Game Night takes advantage of that. Surprisingly, not only does Game Night provide humor and action, it’s violent to boot. There’s plenty of blood spilled, although all of it is played for laughs. But don’t be fooled - Game Night is rated R for good reason.

Knowing that, it’s best to treat this comedy like all comedies – suspend all practicality and reality. Daly and Goldstein (both of whom penned the Spider-Man: Homecoming script) employ dry humor and physical gags to achieve desired results. The rest of the laughs come are derived from pop culture references, which in itself is lazy and overused, but I still found myself laughing at Pulp Fiction references.

One bonus is the fact that Perez wrote the all the film’s characters with some depth. Character development, something that is jettisoned with nearly comedic entry, is used with positive results here. Kevin and Michelle are married and bicker with each other when an old skeleton comes out of the closet. Ryan, a man-whore if I’ve ever seen one, is the dumb blonde who finds himself attracted to co-worker, Sarah, who is the complete opposite (smart and independent) of every woman Ryan’s ever “dated.” All of them contribute to the main storyline all while their characters develop over the film’s 100-minute running time.

The most memorable turn comes from Plemons, who plays Max and Annie’s neighbor Gary. Gary is a creepy cop who wants nothing more than to be invited to Max and Annie’s game nights, but for obvious reasons the couple are against it (and fail miserably at avoiding him). Plemons, who’s made it habit to steal scenes, does just that with a character that viewers would likely fear if they met him in real life. But since this is a dark comedy Gary is exactly what’s needed to make Game Night funny and semi-memorable.

Although Game Night won’t have you busting out laughing, it’s still solid enough to get audiences going. Daly and Goldstein wrote both Horrible Bosses, so if you enjoyed those then you’ll likely find value here.

3.5 stars out of 5


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