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MOVIE REVIEW: Dreadfully unfunny 'Game Night' wastes talents of all involved

By PIERS MARCHANT Special to the Democrat-Gazette

This article was published February 23, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

max-jason-bateman-and-annie-rachel-mcadams-are-avid-board-game-and-trivia-enthusiasts-whose-night-of-planned-activity-goes-horribly-wrong-in-game-night

Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are avid board game and trivia enthusiasts whose night of planned activity goes horribly wrong in Game Night.

Game Night

75 Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Michael C. Hall, Danny Huston, Chelsea Peretti

Directors: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

Rating: R, for language, sexual references and some violence

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

The unexpectedly witty and sophisticated Sarah (Sharon Horgan) decides a Faberge egg is an important artifact in the raunchy romantic comedy Game Nigh...

The thing you have to keep in mind is, even a moderately budgeted low-rent film -- slated to be released in the absolute dead zone of a studio calendar -- employs hundreds of people. The utterly banal Game Night, for example, employs two directors (which we'll will get to shortly), six producers, a writer, some 50-odd cast members, and, by rough count, more than 300 crew and production workers.

So for all the people gainfully employed for the production, good on you, and I hope fortune soon smiles upon you again. For any of those unfortunate enough to be on the other side of the screen -- actually having to watch the thing -- there is much less of a chance to embrace the positive.

Believe it or not, it somewhat pains me to write ill of the film: There are a number of people associated with it for whom I truly wish nothing but the best. They include co-director John Francis Daley, who was unforgettable as the hapless Sam in the seminal, short-lived dramedy series Freaks and Geeks. And there are Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams and Kyle Chandler, three actors whose work I really enjoy but whose names I seem to have a fever-lock on ever remembering.

But facts, as they say, are facts, and there is absolutely nothing in this painfully inert comedy to warrant anyone's willing participation beyond a six-week idyll in Georgia, where it was filmed, and a good-size paycheck to deposit after its completion.

Where does it go wrong? Lord, in so many ways, some large, some small. Come with me, and I'll take you on a quick tour of the place. Our setup is thus: A swell, recently married couple, Max ( Bateman), and Annie (McAdams), who thrive as everyone's least favorite, overly competitive gaming pair, have a regular evening of standard board games and the like each week with some of their friends.

Those friends include Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and his childhood sweetheart wife, Michelle (Kylie Bunbury); and mimbo Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and whatever even-more dimwitted would-be model he deigns to bring with him. Apparently, they also used to include another couple who lived across the street from them, but after a nasty divorce, Max and Annie have no interest in inviting Gary (Jesse Plemons), an exceedingly creepy cop, who routinely walks to his mailbox in full uniform, carrying his small, white terrier. (And if you think the dog's color-scheme goes unnoticed by the filmmakers, you aren't following along closely enough.)

Things get slightly more complicated for Gary when his wildly successful older brother, Brooks (Chandler), comes for a visit. We are told he is a fantastically wealthy investment banker, and a man to whom Gary, shorter, vastly less wealthy, and nowhere near as charming, has always harbored a jealous grudge.

Oh, but don't worry, because this and any other problems these couples might be having -- each clumsily bestowed by screenwriter Mark Perez -- are all neatly sewn up by the laborious end credits. Some of these problems include a couple who have a dispute about whether or not to have children (Max and Annie again, as they are the lead couple, they are given two problems); another pair who come to a jealous crisis when it turns out that one of them may or may not have slept with a celebrity on one of their early breaks from each other (Kevin and Michelle); and whether or not a perpetually shallow moron could actually fall for someone smart and witty, who's not at all sure she's into him in the first place (Ryan, and his perfectly respectable, Irish date Sarah -- played by Sharon Horgan).

Arriving in a '76 Stingray, and quickly hijacking his brother's crew for a game night of his own, Brooks blows into their lives, and upon their arrival at his palatial house-rental, he tells them all he has bought a fantastical kidnapping mystery game, whereupon one of them will get snatched and they will have to follow a series of clues in order to find the missing person, with the winning couple getting the keys to his Corvette.

And so, here we go: A sudden break-in occurs, with a couple of thugs duking it out with Brooks, before taping his mouth, and dragging him out of the place. Assuming this is all part of the "incredibly believable" game Brooks has paid for, the friends do nothing to help, only realizing far too late that something has gone terribly wrong and the thugs who accosted him aren't actually part of the game. Or are they? Or are they not? Or are they again? Or no this time we really mean it? Or do we?

On and on we drag with this inane debate, less cat-and-mouse than Dalmatian-and-empty-box-of-graham-crackers. It's like they took the best and most intriguing aspects of David Fincher's The Game and totally forgot that those parts even existed. Meanwhile, the jokes pop like the burned kernels stuck on the bottom of the pan. (For example, when one of the characters is describing why they can't contact the cops for help with the evil ringleader of this caper: "He has a ton of moles!" "On his face?" "No, in the police department.") This is a film so stone-faced unfunny, one of the few dimly amusing gags actually concerns characters' gagging.

Bad dramas can be funny in their own regard; but bad comedies have absolutely nowhere to go. You can't even laugh, because they so desperately want to be in on the jokes that are nowhere to be found. All you can do is cringe and sigh, and huff, and try to remember the actor's names, and happier times you have spent in their celluloid company.

Like a bad guest who stays far too long after everyone truly amusing and interesting has left, you have no choice but to stick it out until they finally decide to leave.

MovieStyle on 02/23/2018

Print Headline: Game over!

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