The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Game Night

Game Night is an excellent example of how to make a high-concept comedy. It takes as its inspiration the age-old event in which friends gather together to laugh, drink, and be uncommonly competitive with one another over Charades and Pictionary. Then it throws in a dark twist reminiscent of David Fincher's 1997 thriller The Game, in which a befuddled Michael Douglas has to figure out whether the danger he's in is real or just the fancy “adventure” simulation he paid for. There are myriad ways this picture could have gone wrong. Thankfully, it goes hilariously right.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play Max and Annie, a married couple who host a weekly game night in their home, only to have Max's super-successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) hijack it for a week when he comes to town. Turning out are their friends Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury), Ryan (Billy Magnussen), and his girl-of-the-week Sarah (Sharon Horgan).

Brooks has a surprise in store. He's arranged for everyone to play a real-life mystery game requiring them to solve a kidnapping. Before the fake kidnappers arrive, real ones break in. They nab Brooks and haul him off. The others believe that they have to find him to win when, in fact, he will die if they don't. Thus begins an increasingly insane series of events in which the players unknowingly insert themselves into situations with potentially deadly repercussions.

Sometimes movies of this nature step on their own feet as they race to get to each punchline. This one shows patience in setting up its jokes, ensuring that you don't see those punchlines coming and that they land with maximum impact. The key is in creating comic desperation, laying one complication on top of another until the audience thinks things can't possibly get any worse, then adding one more, just to tip it all over. Game Night does this expertly in several memorable sequences, including Max's uproarious encounter with a neighbor's dog that starts bad – he drips blood on the white pooch – and quickly becomes catastrophic in ways we couldn't have imagined.

Actually, the bit that leads to Max bleeding is structured the same way and is every bit as hilarious. Vacation directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, working from Mark Perez's inspired screenplay, display an impressive ability to build comedic momentum while also mixing in bits of action. Game Night's highlight is a scene in which all the characters run through a mansion with a stolen object. What they do with that object is very funny, but also rather suspenseful. It's an ingeniously staged set piece.

A lot of movies of this variety tend to have exaggerated characters. Everyone's got some over-the-top personality quirk. Game Night shrewdly doesn't do that. Each of these people has a very human foible, which the actors keep authentic. Max, for example, feels perpetually undermined by Brooks, and Kevin is consumed by a one-night stand Michelle had years prior. Because they feel like real people, the humor hits a lot harder than it would if the stars were all mugging for the camera. Rachel McAdams gives the bullseye performance, hysterically mimicking a soliloquy from the most iconic movie of the 1990s and charmingly not knowing whether to cheer or mourn a bad guy's gruesome death. Jesse Plemons is also fantastic, playing Max and Annie's cheerless cop neighbor who gets pulled into the situation.

Spot-on in terms of tone and performance, Game Night never goes off the rails, even in its most outrageous moments. The only goal here is to generate laughter, and boy, does it ever succeed. It's been a while since a movie made me crack up so hard, so consistently.

( 1/2 out of four)

Game Night is rated R for language, sexual references and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.