Game Night is one of those comedies that have been cast with terrific, fast-on-their-feet actors who seem a good 10 years older and smarter than the pop culture-obsessed, weirdly developmentally stunted characters they’re playing. In other words, this movie—from Vacation directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein—sits squarely in the tradition of sitcoms past and present that include Friends, How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory. At least Game Night is much darker than those, and that’s what flips something already kind of funny into the zone of the very, very funny.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are Max and Annie, a financially cozy, super-competitive childless couple whose nice suburban home provides a weekly hangout spot for their board and word game-playing friends. They include a longtime couple played by Lamorne Morris (New Girl) and Kylie Bunbury, their ridiculously good-looking, dim-witted, skirt-chasing friend Billy Magnussen (who nails every laugh) and his revolving series of dates, the most substantial of which is played by Sharon Horgan.

Another player is their lonesome, needy next-door neighbor, a deeply weird, emotionally fragile guy played (in hilarious, poignant, scene-stealing style) by Jesse Plemons, who lives with memories of his ex-wife and dotes on his cute little foofy white dog. The dog gets comically victimized because, of course it does.

The good news is that the movie turns out to be a cool, clever surprise.

The plot pivots with the sudden arrival of Max’s bitterly resented, highly successful older brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who one-ups them by inviting Max and Annie and friends to a mystery game night at his ridiculously cool architectural mansion. Soon, they find themselves having a high old time playing what at first appears to be one of those staged murder-mystery games. Except this one actually turns out to be all too real, so from there, it’s game on, complete with a full-on kidnapping, scary gun-toting muscle heads, accidental shootings, homicidal zillionaires (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Danny Huston, for one) and buckets of blood.

The good news is that the movie, written by Mark Perez (Herbie Fully Loaded, The Country Bears), turns out to be a cool, clever surprise. The cast crackles–Bateman and McAdams are fast, easy and terrifically enjoyable together–and there’s bright, sharp supporting work from folks including Chandler, Chelsea Peretti (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and Kabby Borders and Kelly Johns as two of Magnussen’s dates.

Game Night looks and plays, by design, like a zippy, lighter version of an early David Fincher movie, namely The Game starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn. With its clever cinematography by Barry Peterson (The Space Between Us) that deliberately makes its locations look like images on a game board, Game Night keeps things light, quippy and almost consistently funny–until a long, convoluted airport sequence, anyway–especially when the circumstances are dank and bloody. Your mileage may vary, but hey, it might even be worth skipping game night to see Game Night.

Game Night

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