Kylie Bunbury, from left, Lamorne Morris, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams in "Game Night." (Warner Bros.)

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

With Office Christmas Party, Horrible Bosses 1 & 2, Identity Thief, and a handful of other comedy films, actor Jason Bateman has found a comfortable niche portraying a likable, and sometimes flippant straight man reacting to outrageous situations and wildly comedic characters.  With a few exceptions here and there, most of his films have either been just good or not-so-good.  However with Game Night, Bateman has chosen a comedy that is hilariously written and performed, and is superbly directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein.  As talented as Bateman is, it makes me happy to report that he is in a comedic film which utilizes his chops well, and can boast a fantastic supporting cast as well.

Bateman stars as Max, an ambitious and hardworking man who lives comfortably with his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams), but often gets overshadowed by the exorbitant successes of his older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler).  Though happily married, and doing well for himself in his own right, Max has spent most of his life feeling inferior to Brooks who’s always beaten him in any sibling competitions throughout their lives.  Though the two brothers spend less time together now, they do reunite every so often to catch up.

While Brooks happens to be in town for business, Max and Annie reluctantly invite him to join them and their friends for their regular game night get-together.  After one game night leaves Max and Annie feeling sour, Brooks invites the gang over to his place a game night they will never forget.  Always one to up the ante, Brooks hires a murder-mystery company to guarantee them a fun and exciting time.  Things go majorly awry, though, when a group of real criminals intervene and violently take Brooks hostage.  Completely ignorant of Brooks’s shady business dealings, the party guests believe the abduction is all part of the game.

Written by Mark Perez (Accepted), Game Night offers hilarity, action and thrills and makes for a highly entertaining comedy that is definitely worth the cost of a full-priced admission.  Perez and the comedic actors deliver some riotously funny lines and jokes and also do a great job of taking a dark movie premise similar to David Fincher’s The Game and turn it on its end for even more laughs. Directing duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the filmmakers who helmed 2015’s Vacation and wrote Spider-Man: Homecoming, show great skill and innovation with their presentation of this story and in creating the more intense action sequences that make this movie truly exciting.

I must applaud the ingenuity that the directors, cinematographer Barry Peterson (21 & 22 Jump Street), editors David Egan, Jamie Gross, Gregory Plotkin, and other crew members put into creating some sequences and shots that are absolutely fitting, given the story and plot revolve around games.  I was also impressed that the filmmakers signed talented composer Cliff Martinez to score the film.  Martinez, whose cool, often intense and moody scores enhanced the amazing visuals and darkly toned scenes in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, Only God Forgives, and The Neon Demon, lends some necessary darkness and intensity to enhance the gravity and stakes in Game Night.

In addition to Jason Bateman, who performs well in a role perfectly suited for him, the film features fantastic work by the other cast members.  Rachel McAdams is adorably funny and lovable as Max’s wife Annie.  Both Bateman and McAdams share a lovely credible chemistry in the film.  Kyle Chandler performs very well in the role of Max’s arrogant and snarky brother Brooks.  Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury star as Max and Annie’s friends Kevin and Michelle, an often-bickering married couple who reveal an uncomfortable truth about Kylie’s past during the evening’s events.

The film also features fun and exciting appearances by Sharon Horgan, Michael C. Hall, Danny Huston, Chelsea Peretti, and Camile Chen.  Two cast members manage to steal most of their scenes.  Firstly, Jesse Plemons gives an awkwardly bizarre and hilarious turn as Max and Annie’s neighbor Gary.  Gary, a police office with no social skills whatsoever, always wants to be included in his neighbors’ game nights, but Max and Annie find him rather creepy and strange.  Not to be completely outdone, though, is Billy Fergusson, who portray Max and Annie’s friend Ryan, a charming, but dim-witted and shallow guy who always dates gorgeous women even more moronic than he is.

Though the movie does offer audiences loads of laughs, not all of the jokes and gags land well.  Still, because most of them hit their intended marks and the filmmakers manage to juggle both the comedy and more serious side of the story, Game Night makes for a fun and exciting wild ride that will get the heart pounding, the face smiling, and possibly the abdominals sore from laughing.  I had such a wonderfully great time with this film and, thus, encourage others to check it out.

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