Typically a broad comedy with a large ensemble cast can easily fall under the weight of its star power, but somehow Game Night manages to avoid such a trap. It's engaging and consistently funny and offers just what you expect, and want, from it.
It's hardly a new concept, the story of unwitting participants in a game of some kind that feels like it may or may not have fatal consequences. The twist here is that the participants are told from the outset that it's a make-believe game, and they go on thinking it's fake for some time after things actually get real.
With a large assortment of characters, most of them well-established friends who go to each other's houses for weekly Game Nights, it's rather an accomplishment that this group of seven consists of truly distinct, well-drawn personalities. Max and Annie (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, both practically made for these kinds of roles) are the uber-competitive gaming couple who tend to host the Game Nights. Four of their typical guests are one longstanding couple, Kevin and Michelle (New Girl's Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury), and one other good friend, Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and a different date every week, all of them so similarly vapid that the rest of the group have difficulty tearing them apart. That is, until this week, when Ryan brings his work friend Sarah (Catastrophe's Sharon Horgan). Ryan and Sarah are particularly fun to watch since they flip the typical gender script, and it's Sarah constantly marveling at Ryan's airheadedness. Sharon Horgan excels at expressions of incredulousness.
Crashing the proceedings is Max's brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who brings in the "next level" element, turning a typical night of board gaming into a "murder mystery" night. The group is warned that sometime in the evening one of them will be kidnapped and it's up to the rest of them to follow clues and find him. And Game Night is so packed with familiar faces that even Jeffrey Wright shows up as one of the game-actors, but his part barely counts as more than a cameo. Later Michael C. Hall shows up in the final act, his familiarity almost a distraction, but I still won't spoil how he fits into it all.
I will mention, though, Jesse Plemons (who was previously seen on Friday Night Lights along with Kyle Chandler) as the creepy-weird cop neighbor constantly trying to get invited to Game Night, but Max and Annie keep trying to avoid him. Plemons winds up factoring into the story pretty significantly, including not one but two sudden twists in the plot, and in terms of performance he might just be the MVP of the production. It would have been nice to find out whatever happened to his wife who used to be the better Game Night player but has since left him, which we really never find out, but whatever. You can't expect perfection, I guess.
Too often I find myself marveling at the number of stars who all read the same terrible script and somehow thought it would be a good idea to make it into a movie. The most refreshing thing about Game Night is it's actually the type of movie that is usually mediocre at best, but this one is fun and clever throughout, with solid comic performances throughout. Game Night does flirt with mediocrity at times, but never quite dips to that level. It doesn't exactly flirt with greatness, I'll concede, but so what? This is a movie whose twisty plot of hapless characters in over their heads is never overtly contrived, which we could use more of. It's simply a good time for an hour and forty minutes.