Time was that Hollywood loved anything high concept. The basic idea of high concept is the ‘what if’ scenario. So, what if there’s a bomb on a bus, what if a shark terrorised a sea-side town, what if toys had lives of their own and of course, what if a theme park went wrong and the attractions started eating the guests? That last one is key, because the high concept action films these days are less high concept when they become franchises and sequels.
But high concept will never die and now comedy is the way Hollywood has the most fun with it. This year’s Downsizing is a classic example; what if to save the planet humans shrunk themselves. Later this year we’ll get Tag, what if a group of friends never stopped playing their high school game. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. So the high concept for Game Night is a simple one that could be something special or something outright stupid.
What if your regular game night took a turn for the worse? That’s what happens for a group of friends led by Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), when Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town. Chirardes is out and a murder mystery style game is in. But it turns out the mystery game might be more real as Brooks is taken and, thinking it’s still a game, Max and co try to figure out why.
Remember David Fincher’s The Game, Game Night is that, but with laughs rather than dark existentialism. And the laughs come brilliantly and often. The concept is quite entertaining in itself but the real value here comes from the cast and a script that delivers in spades on the one-liners and pin-point interactions.
Writer Mark Perez manages to pepper the film with ridiculous situations that are always just about believable enough to make the comedy really sing. Meanwhile directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein conjure a blurred focus establishing shots that make everything look like life is just a big board game.
The cast are all fantastic but it is Bateman, McAdams, and Jesse Plemons who steal the show. Bateman gives his typically dry turn, all understated shock to outrageous situations. McAdams reminds us that while she seems to do more dramatic roles these days she has brilliant comedic timing and delivery, some of the most laugh-out-loud lines are delivered by her with an innocent charm impossible not to adore. Meanwhile Plemons continues to demonstrate why he is one of Hollywood’s most in-demand supporting actors. His turn as Max and Annie’s creepy next door neighbour is the kind of performance at one point unsettling the next creepily funny.
Easily the funniest film of the year, Game Night is a comedy that delivers on every level a film of this nature should, bring on the franchise.