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The reviews are in — and Game Night is a winner.
The film, currently in theaters, stars Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as Max and Annie, a pair of board game-lovers who are roped into a murder-mystery night at Max’s brother’s (Kyle Chandler) house. It soon becomes apparent that the crimes aren’t fake, forcing them to investigate.
The film was overall a hit with critics and holds a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 82 percent.
But while the action-packed plot might seem exciting, the Hollywood Reporter’s Jon Frosch was one of the relatively few not impressed. He simply writes, “Game Night really isn’t very good.”
“The film exhausts itself — and the viewer — with a busy, uninteresting caper storyline, while neglecting to nurture the humor, or the characters, beyond the most basic level,” he writes. For Frosch, it was up to the cast to “try to inject a bit of flavor into the insipid dialogue, which they do with professionalism.”
Chicago Sun-Times‘ Richard Roeper has a much more positive take, writing, “there are more than enough laughs and clever surprises in this broad and sometimes violent farce to warrant a recommendation, thanks to a solidly funny script by Mark Perez, some pretty neat camera moves and choreographed action/comedic sequences from directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein — and a likable and talented ensemble cast, led by two of my favorites.”
NPR’s Glen Weldon admits the trailers didn’t do much for him, but says he was presently surprised by the final product: “Perez, and directors Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, also know that the tightly controlled light comedy taking place among the film’s ensemble only works if the chaos it’s contrasted against isn’t truly chaotic. They’ve constructed a film in which the tension steadily escalates with at least a nod toward the logic of cause and effect, and characters make stupid but clearly motivated decisions.”
Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post has specific praise for Jesse Plemons, a standout in a strong cast: “numero uno is Jesse Plemons as a recently divorced cop who deeply resents not being invited to game night. Plemons is a master at playing Grade-A creeps, as he did on the latest season of Black Mirror. But his comedic timing and awkward quirks here are as weird as it gets.”
Some reviewers praised the cast members’ performances while critiquing the overall film.
According to The New York Times‘ Glenn Kenny, secondary characters played by Lamorne Morris (New Girl), Chelsea Peretti (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Kylie Bunbury (Pitch), Billy Magnussen (Ingrid Goes West), Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe) and Plemons “are very funny when they get the opportunity to be.” Critics across the board are fans of McAdams’ performance, wishing only that there was more of it.
“The movie is a pointed reminder that Ms. McAdams is one of cinema’s most accomplished and appealing comic actresses,” Kenny writes. “It’s almost heartbreaking to contemplate how amazing she would be in a new comedy that was more than intermittently O.K.”
Emily Yoshida of Vulture/New York Magazine agrees that McAdams is an “effortless comedic actor … who has rarely been called upon to do the same since [Mean Girls].” Since the 2004 comedy, McAdams has opted for roles in romances and dramas like The Notebook and, more recently, Southpaw.
Veteran comedian Bateman performs “a sharper-than-average version of the sighing and dead-eyed reaction shots we’ve seen him do before,” Yoshida adds.
For all that the actors add to the movie, some critics believe the action elements subtracts from it. How much exactly? That depends on the review. Peter Travers from Rolling Stone would rather “hang with the characters and get to know them better” than have to go through car chases and bar fights. Yoshida finds Game Night to be “the same kind of social overcompensation that virtually any other mainstream comedy is about, but it feels comfortable with this, not desperate to pile on the raunchy bells and whistles in an effort to feel more current.”
“What’s most frustrating about Game Night is how dependent the plot is on the stupidity of the characters,” Time Out‘s Joe McGovern writes. “Laughing at people for being dumb is an obnoxious impulse, and you’ll feel sorry for actress Kylie Bunbury, who has to pretend to mistake a random black guy for Denzel Washington.”
Los Angeles Times reviewer Justin Chang isn’t a fan of the “lame, hyperactive action plot involving black-market smugglers and Bulgarian mobsters, all of it set to a frantic soundtrack of shrieking tires and accidentally discharged firearms.”
“I’ve spoiled nothing, and in fact would be hard pressed to spoil anything, given the script’s chaotic, laborious pileup of second- and third-act twists,” Chang continues.
Slant Magazine, on the other hand, gives screenwriter Mark Perez (Accepted) some credit for those twists.
“Mark Perez’s screenplay offers up some surprisingly satisfying twists and turns, maintaining just enough plausibility to prevent the film from veering into sheer absurdity,” reviewer Keith Watson writes.
However, none of the surprises will launch this movie into comedic history, according to Yoshida. Game Night “won’t fix the studio comedy,” Yoshida writes, “but it’s a welcome, watchable outlier for now.”
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