Sometimes it’s refreshing to drive your head into the sand and march into a film with pretty much no idea what’s coming. It’s admittedly tough to do these days, what with trailers autoplaying willy-nilly in our social media feeds and clickbait sizzle preceding just about every steak — but every now and then the stars align and along comes a film that, sure as cold beads form on my ICEE cup, stays swaddled in a cloak of utter mystery. (Thanks for permitting that particular pause-4-florid — I had to earn my “overwrought prose” badge for the week.) Anyway, that all did happen, and I am pleased to report, Game Night was a fun surprise.

Game Night is pretty much The Game meets Date Night (I could write titles) with just a dusting of Get Out-style woke comedy and a legitimate barrel-o-monkeys of surprisingly decent laughs. This is a really entertaining movie.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams lead as Max and Annie, a super-competitive game-obsessed suburban married couple who host game nights at their house with pals Ryan (the always-enjoyable Billy Magnussen), Kevin (Lamorne Morris, who trots out a mean Denzel impression), Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), and Sarah (Sharon Horgan). When Max’s older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town, old rivalries flare up and the group is plunged into a kidnap-mystery participant-theatre adventure that blurs the line between reality and THE GAME. (I could write synopses.)

The plot is what it is, but a film like this sinks or floats on pacing, comedy, and originality. Bateman and McAdams aren’t quite Gosling and Stone (and I’m thinking Crazy Stupid Love here, not La La Land) but they’re definitely no Pitt and Cotillard, either. And much like that last sentence, Game Night delights with nods to a whole host of other films. I won’t eat your candy by telling you here what they are, but homages — subtle and not-so-subtle — abound. Ready Player One, eat your heart out.

Props to the set designer too (I kill myself) for making this a visually interesting film — when all else fails, plop your talent in a smooth modern mansion. Hey, it worked for Nocturnal Animals, This is the End, and Iron Man, right? Hey, do I get a prize for most gratuitous links to other reviews?

I like the way director duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (together: Vacation) play with shock, humor, and even some blood to make this a really fun ride. Sure, I could have done without the Family Man- and Keeping Up With the Joneses-style forced affirmation of suburban drudgery, but that’s pretty much de rigeur now in these thrust-in-the-middle-of-it pictures. I’ve learned to take a deep mainline draw on my frozen beverage, count backwards from ten, and remind myself that if the filmmakers truly believed in the supremacy of the honest-to-Jeebus middle class they wouldn’t dress everyone’s house like an eight-figure model home. Breathe into the bag.

Anyway, unlike me, you’ve now squandered the precious elixir of ignorance (ha!) and will walk into this film knowing something about it. So know this: You won’t be shaken to your core, compelled to weep softly with welling emotion, or suddenly emboldened to speak up at town council meetings. No. You’ll be entertained. This is that rare bird — a kind of stupid, kind of clever, legitimately funny, and truly fun movie.

Are you not entertained? Is that not why you are here?

Haus Verdict: Game Night is a truly fun night at the pictures. Don’t overthink it. Just see it. 

Game Night opened in theaters on Friday, February 23.

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