Snakes and Lackeys

Good friends, Tostitos, and the displacement of miniature plastic figures according to the spin of a clickity wheel – what more do you need? Not every married couple spends their nights on Netflix; some like to gather around painted cardboard and battle for the control of Asia. It’s Game Night. No alcohol, no gambling, reasonable hours, and the odd chance that someone’s brother may be kidnapped and held at gunpoint. Anything can happen.

Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) knew they were soulmates the moment they answered “Tinkie Winkie” in chorus at trivia night. They’ve been together ever since. With a few married years behind them, Max and Annie are anxious to grow their family but can’t seem to move past round one. One theory is that Max’s overly competitive nature compounded by years of losing to his older, more successful, more charming brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), is causing performance-reducing stress. It certainly doesn’t help that Brooks is about to pay a visit – on game night, no less. Brooks is eager to join the gang and is just dying to make a good impression, so he arranges a soiree of no boards, no cards, and no dice; it’s a murder mystery party. Friends Kevin (Lamorne Morris), Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), Ryan (Billy Magnussen), and his date Sarah (Sharon Horgan) are so pumped it’s like the opening minutes of Yahtzee, but Max and Annie just want to see Brooks’ stupid face when he loses. The murder mystery unfolds as expected until two men barge in and kidnap Brooks. The gang are impressed with the Brook’s commitment to the role, until they get the feeling that something’s a little off – and it’s not the seven-layer dip.

The game gang are having a weird night. They eventually deduce that something’s going on but have little time to process it until another player steps in with a twist. These poor, uncomfortable souls thought they were in for The Game of Life but end up living the game of Clue. Annie doesn’t know she’s waving a real gun at her husband’s face until shortly before the “fake” kidnappers chase them down in a nondescript, windowless van. Leave it to Brooks to take an innocent, family activity like game night and turn it into a hostage exchange on a closed bridge at midnight.

Max and Annie burn through miles on their eco-friendly hatchback trying to rescue Brooks from his own stupidity and, naturally, run into a little trouble themselves. You have to expect a few brawls in the living room because game nights are stressful, but thanks to some foreign mobsters, the brawls are much rougher than the standard misunderstanding over Pictionary. One thing is for sure: the company that makes glass tables have seriously upped their durability standards. It’s a weird night all around.

The crew get into all sorts of dangerous dealings during their search for Brooks. But between shoot-outs and fisticuffs they still find time for Jenga. What better way to calm the nerves than with a growing tower of unbalanced wooden shards? Game Night throws some random players into the mix wherever possible, but none is more impressively temporary than Gary (Jesse Plemons) the neighbour. He’s as socially uncomfortable as wet socks, but Max and Annie can’t ignore his unique set of skills and access to police resources. Good old Gary may be a pawn, but he’s definitely the last pawn to be sacrificed.

Everything in Game Night revolves around some kind of game, obviously. Even the visuals reminded me of tiny pieces on a laminated board. Max and Annie’s Nissan weaves through little streets, plastic bushes, and miniature neighbourhoods as they follow the clues. It’s very cute. But what doesn’t quite fit the game night theme is their ongoing discussion about having kids. It feels very left-field. Sure, Family Feud is more fun with a larger family than two, but is this really the day to be discussing parenting goals when there are bullets flying and kidnappers kidnapping?

I giggled through most of this movie, even though I only got half of the references. I kept thinking of more friends who would enjoy Game Night as I moved from scene to twist to hilarious misunderstanding. It’s a consistent comedy that doesn’t lean on the risqué side for a cheap laugh. Game Night is a ridiculous evening that goes unnaturally smoothly and totally off the rails at the same time. It’s 8 hungry hippos out of 10.

“What’s real and what’s fake.”