“Game Night” takes viewers on convoluted, wild and entertaining ride

Rating: 4.5/5 Bags of Tortilla Chips

Viewers might not expect much of “Game Night,” but this is one game viewers won’t want to miss. It’s the most surprising film of 2018 so far.

The film centers around the ultra-competitive Max, portrayed by Jason Bateman, and his like-minded wife Annie, played by Rachel McAdams, who enjoy hosting couples game nights with their friends. When Max’s wealthy and egotistical brother named Brooks, portrayed by Kyle Chandler, comes to visit, their harmless gatherings take a dark turn. Brooks decides to host an elaborate murder-mystery game night, complete with pretend villains and special agents, in which Brooks himself is kidnapped and the other players follow clues to find him. It’s all just a fun game, right? Not so fast. After a chaotic brawl in which Brooks is beaten bloody and hauled away, the players realize, albeit after a hilariously long time, that they aren’t playing a game any more. The stakes are high and the risks are very real.

What follows is a consistently entertaining and beautifully directed film that’s far better than it has any right to be.

“Game Night” succeeds mostly because of the cast. Bateman is entirely convincing as a friendly, dry-humored suburban man with whom viewers can easily empathize. McAdams also gives a pitch-perfect performance as the bubbly, optimistic Annie. Their relationship gives the film heart and emotional weight amid the increasingly ridiculous plot.

The rest of the group, including Billy Magnussen’s clueless pretty boy Ryan and Lamorne Morris’ paranoid Kevin, has natural comedic chemistry with one another. The stand-out performance of the film, though, is Jesse Plemons as Gary the cop. With a piercing, “Terminator”-esque gaze and uncomfortably monotone speaking pattern, Plemons gives a performance that’s equal parts hysterical and creepy.

The characters of “Game Night” don’t have particularly developed backstories, but they don’t need to. Their friendly banter conveys years of friendship, providing the film with the backstory necessary to keep viewers invested. The film also explores the connection between the brothers Max and Brooks, whose relationship succumbs to clichés near the film’s conclusion. Fortunately, “Game Night” was never trying to be an emotional drama. In terms of modern comedies, the film wholeheartedly succeeds.

The film doesn’t rely on raunchiness, which viewers might assume given Bateman’s starring role. Rather, the majority of the humor stems from the characters’ reactions to their life-threatening situations. Sequences such as McAdams’ Annie holding violent thugs at gunpoint, thinking it’s all game, make viewers cringe and squirm with dramatic irony. Another stand-out sequence involves bullet extraction, in which the characters’ inept-ability renders the end result worse than what they started with.

Unexpected twists abound in “Game Night,” and each plot thread has meaning, however obscure and convoluted they might be. Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein created a film in which nothing is always as it seems. The direction of the film reflects this with an aerial shot early in the film which makes Max and Annie’s neighborhood appear like a part of a board game. The abundance of abrupt cuts in the film effectively keeps viewers on edge and creates the illusion that viewers are watching a series of events unfold mechanically, with each character representing a different piece of a sinister puzzle.

The only significant problem with “Game Night” is a particular side plot involving Kevin, played by Morris, and his wife Michelle, played by Kylie Bunbury. The discussion of whether or not Michelle has cheated on Kevin takes up far too much of the film’s run time. Even though this plotline has a payoff near the conclusion of the film, the final revelation seems somewhat pointless.

“Game Night” isn’t a film meant to be analyzed or dissected. Unlike “Black Panther,” the film won’t hold much cultural relevance for the foreseeable future. Even so, “Game Night” is a resounding success and succeeds at nearly everything it sets out to accomplish. For viewers looking for a guaranteed fun time at the cinema, there are few better movies playing right now.