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Game for a laugh

FILM REVIEW: GAME NIGHT. A murder mystery party, complete with fake thugs and faux federal agents... as six uber-competitive gamers set out to solve the case, they begin to discover that things are not what they seem to be

Trish Lee

Charlie Masters

trish.lee@newburynews.co.uk

Contact:

01635 886663

film mar 15

game night

***

100%

*

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**

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****

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*****

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Game Night (15)
Running time 1hr 40min
Rating: ****

WHITE-collar action comedies are a dime a dozen nowadays – truth be told, you can’t really go wrong with the bulk of them, though they are, for the most half, about the definition of ‘safe’ studio vehicles, showcasing an amorphous cast of Big Current Hollywood Favourites and mostly opting for instant gratification (The Interview’s feature-length North Korea riff, the Hill-Tatum pairing of 21 Jump Street) over genuine memorability. On one level, Game Night is hardly a deviation from this populist formula (why fix it if it ain’t broke, anyhow?); Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams headline as a star-crossed, movie trivia-infatuated couple, while its action sequences are nothing to rave about. Unfortunately, the trailers sell it as a far more pedestrian picture than it actually is – the film has a vein of snappy, smart-but-dark humour running right the way through it.
Far from another project borne of the American Pie crowd’s awkward coming of age (see: Horrible Bosses, Fist Fight, The Hangover), the movie has some insightful, very funny, occasionally vicious things to say about the thirtysomethings it portrays, a generation which, though hardly lacking for all the trappings of material ‘success’, has never quite escaped the media-and-argufy-fuelled bubble of their high school years.

While not himself exactly on the breadline, Max (Bateman) lives in the shadow of his much wealthier (and somewhat better-looking) brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler). He and his wife, Annie (McAdams), resolve to outfox Brooks at their weekend game night, which the latter has mysteriously offered to host. Going, as ever, gloriously over the top in his efforts to wow his guests, Brooks has planned an elaborate kidnap mystery night; the winner gets his prize Corvette, the apple of Max’s green eye. Things escalate when two masked gunmen burst in to nick Brooks, but his guests are unable to distinguish between what’s real and what’s indicative of their host’s insatiable desire to flaunt himself. It’s an amusing pitch, but despite the script taking it in some refreshingly unpredictable directions, it’s hardly the sort of thing you can sell an entire film on.

Indeed, Game Night’s appeal comes down to several factors. Bateman, I’m led to believe, is selling himself short on the slop-com circuit, and my theory is only compounded by his work here, in which he lays on a dynamic, bleakly sassy portrayal of midlife-crisis-come-a-decade-early; McAdams’ character is the natural foil to his tryhard, a cutthroat gamer in her own right who gets just as many great lines. It’s a very 21st-century screwball comedy, a battle-of-the-sexes romp for an age where the sexes don’t seem to have much to prove to one-another anymore. Yet screenwriter Mark Perez also teases us with a hefty injection of playful, Edgar Wright-esque film geekery – we’re being played just as much as the central players, and it makes for a glorious experience. Altogether, this is a far more niche, clever film than its glossy presentation is bound to let on,
packing just as much social satire into its 100-minute runtime as a suburban laff riot on a studio budget plausibly can.

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