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Movie review: Jesse Plemons' creepy performance highlights funny, flawed 'Game Night'

POSTED February 23, 2018 7:32 a.m.
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“GAME NIGHT” — 2½ stars — Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons; R (language, sexual references and some violence); in general release

“Game Night” will definitely bring you some laughs, but audiences will be split on whether that’s enough.

Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, “Game Night” is the story of a murder mystery game gone tragically and comically awry. The movie introduces us to a hyper-competitive married couple, Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), brought together by an almost savant-like gift for trivia and party games.

The highlight of the couple's existence is a weekly game night shared with a few longtime (and presumably easygoing) friends. Typically the biggest challenge of the event is keeping it a secret from their creepy neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons), but when Max’s legendary older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) shows up for the event, things get even more complicated.

As it turns out, Max and Annie have been struggling to get pregnant, and they believe the emasculating shadow of Brooks may be partially to blame. To shake things up, Brooks invites the whole group to his place for a special murder mystery style game, and Max and Annie eagerly join in, determined to put big brother in his place. But when two real assailants burst in and kidnap Brooks, everyone assumes it’s all a part of the game and continue to play along.

From here, “Game Night” is split between a handful of storylines, as the crew gradually catches on to the reality of their situation and set about rescuing Brooks, whose successful career turns out to be a cover for something far more insidious. Meanwhile, Max and Annie are forced to evaluate their relationship, and the other couples deal with their own relationship dynamics.

The directors do a good job of keeping things interesting, turning up the tension whenever the story looks like it’s running low on gas. Unfortunately, the premise of injecting everyday folks into an action hero world of international crime and intrigue eventually stretches the element of plausibility too far, and the dramatics of the third act feel a little too pricey to sell.

“Game Night” is far better in its little moments, such as a comic scene where Annie has to attempt to patch up a bullet wound in Max’s arm using random items she picks up at a local convenience store, or when Gary’s dog foils Max’s attempt to use his neighbor’s laptop to access a criminal database.

Plemons as Max and Annie's creepy police officer neighbor is one of the highlights of the film, ramping up the campy awkwardness he used to charming effect as Landry in TV’s “Friday Night Lights." He’s a nice foil for Bateman and McAdams, who do a great job of balancing their relatability against their own eccentricity.

A little more focus on elements like that, plus a dial down on some of “Game Night’s” more ludicrous points, would have made for a better total package. It’s also interesting to note that “Game Night’s” R rating feels a little unnecessary, almost exclusively for language that doesn’t feel vital to sell the characters or the plot.

Even though it has some really great funny moments, "Game Night" struggles to produce a successful whole.

“Game Night” is rated R for language, sexual references and some violence; running time: 100 minutes.


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