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Game Night

Other // R // May 22, 2018
List Price: $22.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted June 4, 2018 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
For once, a genuinely funny, original comedy

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: This cast
Likes: game nights
Dislikes: Gary's awkwardness, Warner Brother's menu design
Hates: false endings, weak extras

The Movie
John Francis Daley will forever be Sam Weir, the painfully awkward lead of the seminal canceled-too-soon series Freaks and Geeks. It's too iconic a role on too great a show for Daley to ever outgrow it, even almost twenty years and many inches of acquired height later. But while most of his castmates have gone on to acting stardom, Daley (despite steadily acting, including a regular role on Bones) went in a different direction, building a name behind the camera as a writer (Spider-Man: Homecoming, the Horrible Bosses films) and director (Vacation) working with his creative partner Jonathan Goldstein.

The pair were offered the chance to rewrite Mark Perez' script about a group of friends whose game nights get ridiculously out of hand, and took the gig on the condition that they direct the film as well. It was a smart decision for everyone involved, as the result--Game Night--is one of the best studio films released this year: an honest-to-goodness smart, original comedy for adults.

Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are a wildly competitive couple whose lives are centered around "game nights"--those adult get-togethers where friends gather and play various board games. Competition is everything to them and that extends to Max' relationship with his successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler)--a sibling rivalry that Max always ends up on the losing side of.

When Brooks swings into town and inserts himself back into Max and Annie's circle of friends--including dopey womanizer Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and fellow couple Michelle and Gary (Kylie Bunbury and Lamorne Morris--he quickly takes over and sets up an epic game night of his own in which he'll be kidnapped and the group (with Sharon Horgan brought along as Ryan's date) has to find clues to save him, with an expensive car going to the winners.

Wouldn't you know it though, Brooks gets kidnapped for real, by criminals with an unknown connection to Max' older brother, and the crew plays along, thinking the whole thing is a fun role-playing game, rather than a life-or-death situation. Splitting into three groups, they go on the hunt for clues, and end up with a night of adventures they may not survive to remember, if only because they don't realize the danger they are all in.

The film works for a number of reasons, including some fun scenarios and set pieces that earn solid laughs, a devotion to the core concept, and an engaging story that works remarkably well (until the ending stretches out a bit too long.) But the key, above anything else, is the cast. As the core couple, Bateman and McAdams are just about perfect together, with McAdams delivering an eye-opening comedic performance that finally allowed me to understand why people adore her so. (Bateman is doing what he does best, playing the ultimate average, yet charming guy.)

They are accompanied by an array of talent, with Morris bringing the best of his New Girl performance to the big screen, Bunbury making an impressive transition from her role in Pitch to a featured film role, Magnussen bringing a lot of sublime silliness to the group, and Horgan serving the audience well as the funny, cynical outsider (and viewer proxy). As good as they all are though, it's Jesse Plemons, as Annie and Max' creepy neighbor Gary, who steals every scene he's in. This role required such a specific performance to pull off correctly, and Plemons nails it in a big way (as does an unheralded big-name cameo and Chelsea Peretti in a small, yet enjoyable part.)

As good as the film is--and it is a lot of fun, not to mention pleasing to the eye--it's not perfect, with the only real issue being the end, as it drags on for quite a bit. Watching the film in the theater, there was definitely a sense of "This has to be it, right?" The odd thing is, it's not, as the film ends in a way you will not expect. Hopefully it does end there, because to try for a sequel would likely not work, once you've played the conceit through its conclusion here. Let this be a true rarity: a hit, adult comedy that isn't cloned into an unnecessary sequel.

The Discs
Game NIght arrives as a two-disc release (one Blu-ray, one DVD) in a dual-hubbed, standard-width Blu-ray keepcase with a slipcover that repeats the cover art. It's hard to believe that, in 2018, Warner Brothers still hasn't revamped their bland menu design. The static screen provides the choice to watch the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the special features. Audio options include English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and Dolby Digital 5.1 English Descriptive Audio, French and Spanish tracks, while subtitles are available in English SDH, French and Spanish.

The Quality
The 2.4:1. 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer for Game Night wonderfully captures the film's unique look, which utilizes a very active camera, varied shooting techniques (including tilt-shift photography) and a very stylized palette. Colors are spot-on--in their very purposeful way--with some scenes looking completely naturalistic, while others feature more dramatic hues. The level of fine detail is excellent (a key to the aforementioned tilt-shift look) and night scenes (which make up a bulk of the film--as the title would suggest) look great, with black levels that are deep and solid. There are no problems with digital distractions.

The DTS-HD Master Audio track for this film has a lot to work with, not the least of which is the music, which features a number of great soundtrack cues (including Queen, Hall and Oates and Billy Joel) along with delightfully pitch-perfect synth scoring courtesy of Cliff Martinez. From the moment the score kicks in during the opening credits, the feel of the film is firmly established and the audio keeps step throughout. Beyond the music, the track offers clean, strong dialogue (a key for the comedy), well prioritized effects (which come in handy in a number of spots) and ambient sound (where appropriate) that fleshes out scenes.

The Extras
Pretty disappointing line-up of extras for such an enjoyable film. Hopefully one day we'll get more from Shout! or Kino Lorber. What we do get starts with the 3:48 "An Unforgettable Evening: Making Game Night". It's a standard, if well-edited behind-the-scenes look at what it's like to work on a film with large ensemble scenes and how the co-directing worked. It's so brief there's not much to get into in the interviews, but there are a number of spoilers, so skip it till later.

The other extra is a gag reel (6:48) which has a number of enjoyable flubs from the shooting of the film, and shows what a veteran of filmmaking Bateman is. The only bad side is that it reveals what's either deleted scenes or improv alts, which have not been provided to watch.

Also in the package is a code for a Movies Anywhere copy of the film.

The Bottom Line
Thanks to a ridiculously likeable cast, a fun premise, and a surprising amount of style for a mainstream comedy, Game Night is one of the best and most satisfying original studio comedies in recent memory. Warner Brothers has done right by the film in terms of the presentation, but the extras are extremely lacking. The film overcomes that deficit, earning a high recommendation, but you may not need to own it.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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Highly Recommended

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