The art of humor in film is certainly difficult to master. It is difficult to find a balance between comic relief and overusing the same punchlines and quips. Even the funniest moments of a film can be ruined through repetition. The exhaustion of a joke can turn what was once found hilarious by audiences into something lackluster and irritating, resulting in boredom. In securing a few audience laughs at the beginning of the film, “Game Night” falsely presumes that it has viewers hooked, and thus proceeds to squeeze every last drop of humor from the jokes from the first quarter of the film until there is absolutely no comedy left. Though the film initially manages to grasp audience attention, its hold quickly loosens through its unchecked overeagerness to push humor at viewers, resulting in the unraveling of plot direction and an unclear tone.
At the start of the film, viewers are greeted by a cutesy montage, documenting the game-themed relationship of quirky, competitive couple Max (Jason Bateman, “Zootopia”) and Annie (Rachel McAdams, “The Notebook”), who are known and beloved by their friends for their frequent hosting of game nights. Trouble arises, however, when Max’s charismatic yet sketchy brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler, “Super 8”) comes to town and hosts his own game night, one that he brags will surpass all others by involving a faux kidnapping of one of the players and an evening of detective work to find them. However, the night rapidly spirals out of control, launching the group of suburban, millennial players into a night of real danger, hazard and chaos.
Despite a plotline that sounds somewhat promising, this film is a mess. Essential to the movie’s foundering is that it becomes way too complicated way too fast. Characters and viewers alike are jerked back and forth, taunted by directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (“Vacation”) into believing that something is just part of the game one minute and that it is real the next. The lack of clarity over what is going on does not create the desired effect of mystery and suspense, but instead prompts frustration and annoyance among viewers over the faulty direction of the plot.
The only praiseworthy element of the film is the chemistry between Bateman and McAdams’s characters. Throughout the film, Max and Annie function as more of a unit than individuals, working in tandem as a harmonious dynamic duo. To the film’s credit, the scenes with the two are quite charming and audiences are able to find a relatively stable source of humor from their married couple banter. Yet, not even the charming compatibility between Max and Annie can save this film.
Overall, Daley and Goldstein’s aim to create a film that is fast-paced and engaging falters, instead leaving audiences too confused and whiplashed to laugh. The sense of discombobulation felt when the theater lights came up speaks to the severe lack of clarity as to what exactly the film wanted to accomplish in the first place. Mostly to blame is the imbalanced combination of sinister and silly moments that end up generating an all-encompassing sense of awkwardness, especially evident through the presence of Gary, Annie and Max’s overly creepy next-door neighbor whose weird, almost psychopathic manner is used to elicit comedic effect in one moment and fear in the next. Gary’s character is reflective of the film as a whole: intended to create intrigue through a bizarre and ill-made blend of eerie and comical, but instead provoking audience members into a state of confusion and uninterest. Although “Game Night” unfolds within the short span of one, fateful evening, inconsistencies in the direction and mood of the storyline ultimately make the film feel like an unpleasant eternity.