Review: ‘Game Night’ (playing for keeps with your peeps)

Never trust your players to stay on the map when they can’t see the edges.

Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are diehard gamers and life for “game night” competing with all their friends. Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) sends word that he’s in town and wants to join them for game night, but the Brooks has always been Max’s Achilles heel when it comes to winning against him. After soundly defeating Max once again in multiple games, Brooks offers to host another game night — one he promises will be at a level they’ve never played at before — but when things appear to go wrong, is what’s happening real or just another layer to the game?

Back in 1997, Michael Douglas and Sean Penn starred in a film called The Game, where Douglas was put through his paces in a live-action role-play that intentionally blurred the line between fiction and reality. It also was virtually impossible short of a movie budget to have actually pulled off, which is interesting since Game Night has a similar premise played for dark comedy rather than drama. With a more conscientious budget and featuring comedians rather than dramatic actors, can Game Night pull off a low-budget thriller played for laughs while suspending disbelief?

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams show amazing chemistry as a competitive couple pitted against a rogue older brother, but what makes Game Night work is a difficult balance of drama, danger, and hilarity at situations no one is sure is real or fake. Along with a clever production design that makes locations look like scale models and other board game bits thrown in, this was probably a hard sell to figure out how to market for any studio. Those taking a chance on the idea will be rewarded, and there’s plenty of ways it could all continue if a sequel should end up being greenlit as well.

As a character-driven piece, the hangups and tactics of each team add to the hilarity while at the same time showcasing with some clever solutions and ways around clues. Also creating chaos is an ex-wife obsessed creepy neighbor named Gary, played to the hilt by Jesse Plemons. Clever observers will notice a number of “The Walking Dead” cast members as various thugs and toughs; small wonder since the entire production was filmed in Georgia.

By the time the final resolution comes about, viewers might be considering staging their own who-dun-it game night, hopefully without going off the rails like this one does. If your game night sometimes turns into movie night, this one should fill the bill nicely — the less you know, the better.

Three skull recommendation out of four

Speak up, Mortal -- and beware of Spoilers!

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