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Troubled competition: 'Game Night' devolves into silly mediocrity

  • Film-Review-Game-Night-1

    This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Rachel McAdams, left, and Jason Bateman in a scene from "Game Night."

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Film-Review-Game-Night-2

    This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Jason Bateman in a scene from "Game Night."

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

In Game Night, Annie and Max, played by Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman, are a married couple whose competitive streak is comical in the figurative and the literal sense.

When Annie and Max first meet as captains of competing trivia teams during a game night at a darkened bar, we laugh as the rivals bicker and jostle for the top slot. Their intense competitive nature, of course, leads to an almost instant physical attraction between them and make-out session in the bar, which ... well, you can imagine where the film quickly goes from there.

WATCH: ‘Game Night’ official trailer

But Game Night's laughs continue even after they’re a married couple, as the wife and husband’s oneupmanship continues into a fertility clinic, where they quarrel over their life together and cast aspersions of blame while the doctor across the desk from them looks on horrified.

'Game Night'

Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. Screenplay by Mark Perez. A Warner Bros. release playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, Levis Commons, Bowling Green, and Mall of Monroe. Rated R for language, sexual references, and some violence. Running time: 100 minutes.

Critic's rating: ★★½ 

Cast: Rachel McAdams, Jesse Plemons, Jason Bateman, Billy Magnussen, Kyle Chandler, and Kylie Bunbury.

Annie and Max may not be a likable couple, but they are fun to watch. And also quite funny. But then they turn silly. And their silly is not so funny.

Game Night isn’t a reference to their enjoyment of bar trivia, Jenga, or board games they play with other couples. It’s about a bizarre murder mystery game come to life, orchestrated by Max’s rich and single brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), and played with two other couples: the smart and British Sarah (Sharon Horgan) and pretty boy and pretty stupid Ryan (Billy Magnussen), who are on a first-time date; and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) and Kevin (Lamorne Morris), a married couple who have been together since high school and who are fighting over what celebrity Michelle slept with when she and Kevin briefly broke up years ago.

What’s supposed to be a fun evening with a valuable prize for whichever couple solves the mystery quickly devolves into Brooks’ violent kidnapping from two gun-toting thugs and an FBI agent. 

The night only gets crazier — and not in a good way — from there, as the plot expands to include two criminals on the FBI’s most wanted list, a valuable egg, and the fights, chases, shootouts, and mayhem that follow. 

Through much of it, Annie and Max consider this to be an elaborate con by Brooks to — more or less — show up Max, because that’s how brothers are.

But when the bullets and blood turn out to be real, they rethink their strategy to laugh their way through it, which only makes their rather careless decision-making in the face of these actual threats all the sillier.

The three couples, for example, find a way into a party hosted by one of those criminals (Danny Huston) to retrieve a valuable item that will save Brooks’ life — assuming, of course, that he really is in jeopardy. Game Night likes to blur the line between what is real and what is fictional (the game) — has Brooks really been kidnapped, or was this part of the elaborately staged contest? If so, who is a real villain or merely an actor paid to play the part? — so much that our reaction is also affected. Being shot isn’t so funny when it’s a crime.

Game Night is well cast and everyone has a few funny lines throughout, especially Jesse Plemons as a creepy divorced cop and next-door neighbor to Annie and Max named Gary, whose scene-stealing pops up just enough to consistently be funny and surprising without becoming tiresome and predictable.  

McAdams has a knack for comedy, verbal and physical, and Bateman remains one of the great yet underrated comic actors. Even in instantly forgettable comedies like 2013’s Identity Thief, Bateman is worth watching, particularly when playing against his good-guy stereotype, as an unlikable, sardonic lead who has a few redeeming qualities buried deep inside (Bad Words).

As first-time screenwriters, Game Night’s writing and directing duo of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein had great success with Bateman in 2011’s Horrible Bosses, a dark, raunchy, and very funny comedy about desperate people doing bad things to bad people.

This outing doesn’t go so well, with Game Night’s inconsistent laughs and a plot that’s too silly even for a comedy. 

In fact, Daley and Goldstein, have had some spectacularly unfunny dark comedies since Horrible Bosses that they’ve either written (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) or written and directed (the 2015 Vacation reboot). Still, if their collective resume thus far consists of those extremes, Game Night represents the missing mediocre portion of their portfolio, a comedy neither great nor awful, but just OK.

Contact Kirk Baird at: kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

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