Over the past decade or so, a subgenre of comedy has grown that follows a basic and none-too-fertile conceit: Put boring, straight-laced suburbanites into increasingly raunchy or dangerous situations and let the laughs flow. Or at least, that’s the idea, since so many of these films —Date Night (2010), Horrible Bosses (2011), Office Christmas Party (2016) — haven’t exactly been world beaters. Yet they make money, or enough money to keep crawling out of the Hollywood woodwork. Psychologically, I’m sure there’s something to be looked at in America’s need to stare into the void and see themselves getting into felonious mischief, but cinematically, this glut of films has rarely climbed beyond adequate.
Game Night finds itself scaling the heights of being solid, mostly because it at least tries to do a bit more with itself than so many movies of the same ilk. Yes, we get yet another sardonic, repressed Jason Bateman role, who seems to have formed a nice cottage industry as Hollywood’s go-to pent-up white guy. And that, in itself is fine, since the most range he’s shown is wearing a flannel shirt in Juno (2007). Put beside Rachel McAdams, the two make for a charming, even relatable couple as the events of the film unfold.
And this, along with building an actual (if specious and far-fetched) plot around its actual attempts at character building is what separates Game Night from similar films. Borrowing heavily — and less drearily — from David Fincher’s The Game, the film is built upon a simple premise. After months of monotonous adult game nights, drudging through board game after board game, until one night, Max’s (Bateman) brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) concocts an elaborate kidnapping that the rest of the night’s guests must solve.
Except it quickly becomes apparent that Brooks might not have been kidnapped as a part of any game, while the plot unfurls from there. The script is mainly a series of ever more convoluted twists, none of which make sense under any real scrutiny, but that’s not a problem since this isn’t really a film that’s meant for an audience looking for authenticity. What the emphasis on plot and character does, however, is keep the film from devolving into more base humor and simple raunch. There’s at least a sheen of effort here, something that’s not always found in these sorts of movies. That this emphasis on plot can feel a bit unfocused and meandering at times, but it’s a small price to pay for a little effort. Game Night is no great film by any means, but it’s solid and watchable, something that’s often in short supply these days. Rated R for language, sexual references and some violence. Now playing at AMC River Hills Classic, Carolina Cinemark Asheville, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.