Game Night

In one of those rare instances where the studios screened two movies for the critics at the exact same time, most decided see Annihilation over Game Night. That was a mistake. I finally got around to hitting the Angelika Film Center this weekend to see it, and my wife and I couldn’t stop laughing.

Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein made a decent remake of Vacation, and here, they took a Mark Perez script and gave us what might be the funniest movie of the year. It had so many hysterical movie references, and even some jokes I’m sure will go over the audience heads (one involves a man trying to guess which famous celebrity his wife slept with; there’s a reason he uses the names he does, and even if people don’t get the connection, it’s still funny).

Even when there are scenes that remind you of other movies (a regular couple trying to stitch a bullet wound), the lines they say are so hysterical, that this zany, madcap caper gives you more LOL moments than probably all the comedies you’ll end up seeing this year.

The film starts with Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) meeting at one of those “trivia nights” bars have. Since we all know the premise of the movie, it works well. We quickly see them visiting a fertility doctor, that in very subtle and humorous ways, is acting more like a psychiatrist. It turns out stress may be affecting Max’s sperm, and most of that stress is brought on by his wealthy, obnoxious, more attractive older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights).

In one of many terrific decisions these filmmakers make, when we meet him, we also kind of like him. It’s not that movie cliche character that’s so over-the-top with his obnoxiousness. He just does subtle things, that only a family member might cringe at (especially when you’re the butt of his joke).

Jesse Plemons, who always pops up as an interesting character in movies, plays a psychotic looking neighbor. He’s a cop that never takes off his uniform, and never puts down his little white dog. It reminded me of a Bond villain. He’s no longer invited to game nights, and they’re trying to slyly keep the games under wraps. Yet when he notices Max carrying in three bags of Tostitos…he knows (and their exchange on the store having a “buy one bag, get two free” is one of about 100 brilliant exchanges in this).

Brooks shows up with a ‘76 Corvette Stingray, blasting Billy Joel’s “Captain Jack” — also a hysterical choice of song. The soundtrack gets credit for that, as well as a dive bar going from April Wine to Hall & Oates, although…if they’re going to play two Queen songs (the movie starts with “Don’t Stop Me Now”)…why not the aptly titled “The Game”? But I digress.

As great as Plemons is, the entire supporting cast is comedy gold. Brilliant comedy writer/actress Sharon Horgan shows up as a ringer for the game night. That’s because Ryan (Billy Magnussen of Ingrid Goes West), who is often teased for bringing young, gorgeous airheads to game night and losing, figures he’ll impress everyone. The way they go at each other is sublime.

An African-American couple, Kevin (Lamorne Morris of New Girl) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), have some brilliant fights involving her alleged affair with a celebrity. It gives Morris a chance to shine with various impersonations, too.

When the game night gets shifted over to Max’s rented mansion, that’s when kidnappers show up and hijinx insue. Now, the only problem with a “murder mystery” game involving real criminals, is that you very quickly have to suspend disbelief. Obviously the scenarios get far-fetched and no one would act the way they do. But when you’re listening to McAdams yell lines from Pulp Fiction while waving a gun in a bartender’s face…how can you not laugh? In fact, it’s not until the third act when I saw a bit that didn’t work. It involved a slapstick style chase around a mansion with a stolen faberge egg. Yet that complaint is small potatoes, because when they showed up at the bad guy’s mansion…what is going on there made the entire theatre roar with laughter (I saw the joke coming but still loved it); and what Kevin says upon seeing it…might be the funniest line I’ve heard in years.

Another example of a scene that’s been done before — bribing somebody, but with a much smaller amount than you should. It was done here to great comedic effect. And the woman being bribed — comedian Chelsea Peretti (Brooklyn Nine Nine) — has terrific expressions in her one scene. And speaking of one scene, there’s a Denzel Washington look-alike (Malcolm Hughes) who has a good scene, as well as a scene at the very end of the credits you need to stay for.

Michael C. Hall (Dexter) is nicely cast as the heavy, and even he has a funny line. One of his goons asks if they should kill the guys that witnessed everything. He replies, “Nah. They didn’t do anything wrong.”

Who even thinks to have a bad guy say something like that? Folks, this is how you write a comedy.

There were so many great movie references, from a Wild Bunch movie poster to dialogue cribbed from classics for laughs…it made me convinced the score to the film was from something like Risky Business or The Thing. It was actually original stuff composed by Cliff Martinez, with an eerie synthesizer sound that also strangely, added to the smile on my face.

From McAdams enthusiastic craziness, to Horgan and Bateman’s dry wit, and the fact that I have friends that do game nights — this movie fit perfectly into my wheelhouse.

If you don’t want to see Black Panther for a second or third time, I suggest you catch this hysterical comedy.

4 stars out of 5.