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Raising the Stakes: Game Night

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Synopsis

Game Night is a comedy about two people who are ultra-competitive at every game they play. In fact, Max (Jason Bateman) and his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams) first met as players on opposing teams during a bar game event. Once they dumped their partners, they became a dynamic duo of their own. When they married and bought a home, they continued their passion under their own roof. Their closest friends and competitors include Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and his wife Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) and Ryan (Billy Magnusson), who usually has a different partner every time he participates. Max and Annie's next door neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons) used to be a part of these nights until his wife left him. He continues to ask Max and Annie what they're doing when they have company, and they make an excuse to exclude him.

One day, Max's older brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), comes to visit. A successful businessman, Brooks brings a big game to game night - and even hosts it at his house. He's arranged for a murder mystery to be staged, with one of them to be cast as the victim. The prize for winning is the classic Corvette Brooks drives. It turns out that masked intruders enter and take Brooks. The teams follow the kidnappers, who aren't happy about the pursuit. Other twists that follow include the players coming into contact with Donald Anderton (Danny Huston), a businessman whose pursuits aren't all legitimate, and a man known only as The Belgian (Michael C. Hall), a wanted international criminal. These encounters further cloud the ultimate intention of this competition.

Evaluation

Game Night is a fun, but situation-driven, comedy from the directing team of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who made their directorial debut with the awful continuation of the Vacation movie franchise featuring Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo. In Game Night, the teams make their usual attempts to outsmart one another - as well as dethrone Max and Annie. Ryan, for example, tries to win by bringing a smarter, but older, partner in Sarah (Sharon Horgan), who brings more smarts than he or his other partners have had. They all come to realize that Brooks is right - this is not the game he arranged, but they're willing to forget one whodunnit for another. The twists the movie takes are clever, and will leave viewers guessing what's supposed to be happening. The violence toward the end somewhat upsets the tone of the film, and it has more than a few gaps in logic. Still, the players enjoy this diversion from their usual contests - and that's what matters most here.

The key players in this cast deliver on the spirit of the game - especially Bateman, McAdams, Chandler, and Plemons. Bateman thinks himself the hot shot as Max - and in competition, he is. However, before the game even starts, Brooks rattles Max with stories of Max's awkward adolescence. Annie even brings up some personal details, and that further fuels Max's desire to come out on top - even as he deals with a wound that leaves a mess wherever he goes. McAdams has a wide-eyed and excited look as Annie, even when her own excitement gets out of hand. After seeing Annie handle a loaded gun, everybody should hope she's never near one again. Chandler shows off his comic skill as Brooks as he teases Max, and has a look of terror when he can't convince anybody he's in real danger. Plemons is emotionless as Gary, who never stops wearing his police uniform, as if he were investigating Max and Annie with his every waking moment. He also seems to have access to a police cruiser at all hours, as he demonstrates at one phase of the game. Jeffrey Wright has a cameo as one of the people involved in Brooks's game, and Chelsea Peretti has one of the funniest moments as a game creator who happily takes a bribe from one of the couples to spoil the finish.

Conclusion

Game Night takes friendly rivalry to the extreme - and the players happily go because of the stakes. Even when the game goes off script, they don't care. They think they're ready for the challenge. A challenge is what they get, especially in its dangerous moments. This film makes me wonder if these people are just as driven at work, or if they save all their energy for their time together.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Game Night three stars. The competition hits a new level.

Game Night trailer