Writing comedy seems like it should be an easy thing to do, and certainly judging by all the bad comedy movies out there, many people must think that it is. Writing good comedy is hard. I think the last really good comedy movie I saw was WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS and that was two and a half years ago. (If you haven’t seen it yet, seriously, check it out.) Oh sure, I’ve seen plenty of comedies since then but none that were end-to-end funny, didn’t resort to lame sex or self-deprecating body shaming jokes (Amy Schumer, I’m referring to you), kept the pacing consistent throughout and had a cast full of well-fleshed out characters. Happily, I can report that GAME NIGHT falls into my “Good comedy” category.
In the film, Max (Jason Bateman, OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY; TV’s ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) and Annie (Rachel McAdams, SPOTLIGHT; TV’s TRUE DETECTIVE) are your everyday, fun-loving couple next door who love to play games — charades, Trivial Pursuit, Risk, Scrabble and more. Extremely competitive, they are fortunate to have found kindred spirits in their friends, serial bimbo dater and himself a dumb blond Ryan (Billy Magnussen, THE BIG SHORT; Kato Kaelin in THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON), and married couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris, TV’s NEW GIRL) and Michelle (Hamilton, Ontario native — where I did my masters degree — Kylie Bunbury). Their next-door neighbours, policeman Gary (Jesse Plemons, AMERICAN MADE; THE PROGRAM; TV’s BREAKING BAD) and his wife Debbie (Jessica Lee), used to take part in the group’s weekly game nights but since their divorce they’ve been excluded from the fun, much to Gary’s disappointment.
On this game tonight, Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA; CAROL; THE SPECTACULAR NOW) decides to join them. More successful and even more competitive than Max, Brooks offers to amp up the group’s night together by arranging a murder-mystery for them. The team that solves the murder first, Brooks tells them, will win his brand new Mustang Stingray. The group agrees and the game begins… except that it’s not a game. Brooks, it turns out, is not who he seems to be and the problem with that is that the others don’t realise it until they’re well into the game.
GAME NIGHT was written by Mark Perez, who honed his skills in the Disney | ABC Writing Program, one of the most successful writer programs in the entertainment industry. This is one solid, well-thought out, smart, comedic screenplay! The jokes and gags, which all land right on target, are spaced far enough apart that you’ll be able to catch all of them over your and everyone else’s laughter but they’re also close enough together that you won’t be tapping your fingers waiting for the next one to come around. Equally well done is the direction, which is done by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the duo who wrote HORRIBLE BOSSES. Daley is perhaps best known for his work as the nerdy Lance Sweets on TV’s BONES but my connection to him goes back to his very first movie, ALLERD FISHBEIN’S IN LOVE, a short film he starred in when he was just 15. I brought the film to a film festival I was running in Hong Kong back in 2001.
All the principal actors do great work here with wonderful comedic timing throughout. Jesse Plemons, though, is the standout, playing Gary with complete deadpan creepiness. I’ll admit that I was disappointed with the performance of Michael C. Hall (TV’s DEXTER), who plays The Bulgarian. He was miscast but that’s probably the only negative thing I can say about the film. There are some hilarious sequences involving Gary’s dog and a gunshot wound that will have you rolling on the floor with laughter. A sequence involving a Fabergé egg is also well staged and perfectly edited.
GAME NIGHT makes for a fun night out at the movies. Definitely go see it!
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, March 15th at 8:30 am HK time!
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