MODERN American comedies are often the antithesis of a good game of Jenga. Flimsily assembled and approached with heavy hands, films such as Baywatch and Snatched predictably collapse into a mess before they get going.
On face value, you might anticipate John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s film Game Night to be the latest addition to this undesirable pile – after all, this combination did give us 2015’s charmless road-trip Vacation.
But Game Night is a welcome break from the pack. Playing off the thriller genre and relying on a highly affable cast, this film provides genuine laughs that could break even the most resilient of poker faces.
The surprisingly engaging plot (it keeps you guessing till the end) revolves around a game night that spirals out of control when a pretend kidnap-mystery game gets intertwined with real-life crime. Charades and potato chips quickly descend into a bloody (funny) carnage.
Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman are the heart of the film, playing a married couple – Annie and Max – who were brought together by their love of games. Yet as compatible as the two are on Dance Dance Revolution, their chemistry is yet to bring them the child they desire. A failing that is blamed on Max’s stress, most namely caused by the imminent arrival of his highly-successful and better-looking brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler).
So when Brooks rolls up in Max’s dream car and sets up the ultimate game night, the couple hatch a plan to finally beat Brooks and reclaim Max’s bedroom potency through the power of board games.
Childhood sweethearts Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) are also in on the fun, although a more personal mystery begins to side-track their night.
Meanwhile Ryan (Billy Magnussen) ditches his usual ‘blonde bimbo’ type for canny Irish date Sarah (Sharon Horgan) in a bid to win the night. All four bring something to the party with Horgan and Magnussen providing a little more depth than you might expect.
Jessie Plemons delivers spades of uncomfortable humour as lonely cop Gary. This is an outing that frustrates or engenders hilarity. I, for one, found myself chuckling at his awkward divorcee desperation.
Game Night is not just a simple, lazy studio throw of the dice. This is American mainstream comedy that cares more than most of its peers – as evidenced in the film’s amusing credit scenes. More than anything, Game Night is made fun by its actors. Gun-waving McAdams, in particular, raises more smiles and laughs than anyone. A character and a performance that left me wanting more. Dare I ask for Game Night 2? Or am I just wishing for more – and better – McAdams’ comedies?
All being said, Game Night is the perfect date night film. It may wobble at times but the foundations (a thoroughly entertaining cast and an unpredictable script) keep this Jenga tower stable throughout.