The script for Game Night, the new dark comedy that opens area-wide on Friday, reportedly dates back about five years. That's when creator Mark Perez (Accepted) first pitched the concept to a studio. The project stalled until last year when co-directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Vacation, Spider Man: Homecoming) were hauled in to rewrite the thing and put it into production.
As a result, the finished product feels a bit choppy, and while the film gets off to a good start, it quickly loses momentum when we realize an innocent murder-mystery game isn't so innocent after all.
The film centers on Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), who meet cute one night at a bar while playing trivia on opposite teams. Bonded by a common love of Pictionary and charades, they quickly fall in love.
After marrying and moving in together, they don't hit the bars like they used to, but they continue to host "game night" at their home, sharing cheese trays and wine with all their yuppie friends — well, almost all of their yuppie friends. They've had to exclude next-door neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons), a cop who turned weird and creepy after his wife divorced him.
When Max's showoff brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) rolls into town in a Stingray Corvette and rents a luxurious condo, he invites the gang over to his place for a murder-mystery game he promises they'll never forget. It's not giving too much away to say that the "game" quickly turns serious when a couple of thugs show up and kidnap Brooks before the murder-mystery actors show up.
Of course, Max and Annie think it's all part of the game until they find out that Kyle has pissed off an unnamed Bulgarian (Michael C. Hall) who holds Brooks ransom until Max can meet his demands.
While the setup here works well, the film takes a predictable path once we realize the murder-mystery game isn't really a game after all. The jokes — and there are some good ones — come at the film's beginning when Max and Annie don't realize that the thugs they've confronted are really thugs and not actors. In one funny scene, Annie brandishes a pistol in their faces and takes a page out of Pulp Fiction as she dances with what she thinks is a fake firearm.
The film also takes an unexpected detour when Gary re-enters the picture and tries to keep the Bulgarian at bay after using his detective skills to determine that Max and Annie might be in trouble.
And yet despite some fine performances — Bateman and McAdams have great chemistry and the always-solid Plemons somehow keeps a straight face while petting his dog and dryly delivering his lines like he's some kind of Norman Bates — the movie just doesn't possess enough laughs. Not nearly as campy and funny as Clue, Game Night ultimately comes off as a bland dark comedy that doesn't have enough going for it to turn it into a cult classic.