‘Game Night’ Does Not Pass Go

When I heard that a new film with Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams was coming out, I thought “This could be good.” Both are quality actors with many award-winning films under their belts — “Game Night” had the potential to be another. But I doubt the film would have held my interest if not for them, as the drama didn’t stand on its own. “Game Night” was underwhelming, with only a few modestly funny moments and an uninspired plot.

“Game Night” follows the events of a married couple’s weekly game night gone wrong. Max and Annie (Bateman and McAdams) host a group of their closest couple friends for board games and charades. Max’s competitive brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) visits him and suggests they hold the next game night as his place. Trying to show up his brother, Brooks takes game night to the next level, planning an elaborate murder mystery. But when real kidnappers burst into the house, everyone thinks it is just part of the game. They soon discover the kidnapping is real, and fight to save Brooks from certain death.

Although the plot of “Game Night” seems like it would fall into the category of an action-suspense film, it was advertised as more of a comedy. While there were a few funny moments, the climactic soundtrack (or lack thereof), claymation set and dramatic transitions suggest that the director wanted the audience to perceive the film as suspenseful. The contradictions were confusing. I did not know whether to laugh at the jokes or jump with fright. The woman sitting next to me seemed to share my sense of confusion quite audibly (and hilariously). At numerous points she actually screamed. But she, along with the rest of the audience, was gripped by laughter several times as well. They laughed hysterically at jokes that barely seemed funny to me. Regardless, comedy and horror are two genres that I do not believe mix well, as they elicit two very opposite reactions. “Game Night” seemed an unnatural and forced combination of the two.

That contradiction was further expressed through the strange set and dull color palette. During scene transitions, overhead shots showed that the suburban neighborhood appeared to be composed of clay. Those unnerving shots transitioned to live action, close-up scenes also composed of a spookily dull color palette. The soundtrack contributed to that creepy, suspenseful vibe. There were also moments of complete silence, which always make me somewhat uncomfortable. Perhaps that was the intention. Suspenseful music broke at a jump scare. These menacing sounds and disturbing images contradicted the comedic intention of the film.

Despite the spooky background elements, the casting choices stayed true to the intended comedy genre, as all of the actors are most well known for comedic roles. Aside from Bateman and McAdams, “Game Night” featured other comedic actors on the rise such as Billy Magnussen (“The Big Short” and “Into the Woods”) and Lamorne Morris (Winston Bishop in “New Girl”). Magnussen played airhead playboy Ryan and Morris played Michelle’s goofy husband Kevin. As I expected, the actors portrayed their characters effectively, delivering comedic lines with signature style. For example, Bateman tells his best jokes as snide side comments while Magnussen plays the immature, unintelligent character who spouts out one-liners. Overall, the film’s comedic value comes largely from one-liners, rather than its plot.

Despite its high caliber of comedic actors, “Game Night” falls short. Although I appreciated the relatively original plot in a period where Hollywood is giving us remakes and sequels, it seemed like the creators could not decide on a genre, which distracted from whatever merit the actors offered. That’s not to say that “Game Night” was not funny, as it certainly did have a few quality one-liners that shocked the audience. Overall, the comedic aspect of the film was disappointing and overshadowed by violence and suspense.

Grade: B