Game Night (2018)

*. Fun. Clever. Not that clever — we’ve been here before — but clever enough to get by.
*. There are two basic gag lines to hang the laughs from. The first is the situation where the heroes are in danger but don’t know they’re in danger because they think everything is just a game. I can think of several classic comic scenes using this premise, including very funny uses of it in ¡Three Amigos! and Tropic Thunder. You can probably think of many more. It’s a good gag.
*. The other line is where the heroes are so busy bickering among themselves about petty things that they, again, don’t realize how much trouble they’re in. The two are related, and together they help illustrate how ignorance, even when it’s not bliss, can be funny when observed in others.
*. I wouldn’t call Game Night hilarious, but there are a few good bits and it moves pretty well. I also didn’t think the plot held together all that well past the halfway mark, which was a bit of a shame given the potential for coming up with something really sharp. Instead you just have to shrug your shoulders at all the loose ends.
*. Most of all, however, it’s the cast that keeps everything moving along. Yes, some of the characters have only the one note, but there are a lot of them, with three interesting couples to watch. And the lead couple, Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, aren’t the usual endearing comedy duo. They are yuppie dinks, and proud of it. I wasn’t sure why they even wanted a kid until the really rather nasty business at the end where it’s clear that they think having a baby is just another competition for them to win. That’s funny too, because it’s real.
*. The directors, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, had written the screenplay for Horrible Bosses and the story for Horrible Bosses 2. Apparently they rewrote a lot of the script here, but it had always been written with Jason Bateman (star of Horrible Bosses) in mind for the lead. He really has become a go-to guy for this kind of straight-man role. It’s all the more surprising then when Rachel McAdams upstages him.
*. The supporting cast is shortchanged a bit. Michael C. Hall or Jeffrey Wright (who is uncredited as the fake FBI agent) don’t get to do much of anything.
*. The critical response was depressing. Basically a lot of reviewers liked it because they thought it was something different. What they meant by something different, however, is not something original but rather something different from a Judd Apatow comedy. This surprised me because (1) while he’s certainly had some hits (mixed in with the bombs) I hadn’t thought Judd Apatow was the new default descriptor for mainstream comedy, and (2) I didn’t think this was all that different from my own sense of what a Judd Apatow comedy looks like. Personally, I thought it was pretty much par for the course compared to most of the other comedies coming out around the same time. A little better than average but not that different.

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