Movie reviews: 'Game Night' charms with twists, turns and engaging performances
This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Rachel McAdams, left, and Jason Bateman in a scene from "Game Night." (Hopper Stone/Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)
Published Friday, February 23, 2018 5:55AM EST
Last Updated Friday, February 23, 2018 7:30AM EST
GAME NIGHT: 3 ½ STARS
“Game Night” is a new thriller comedy with Jason Bateman that is more comedy than actual thriller.
Bateman and Rachel McAdams are Max and Annie, two competitive people who meet at a trivia night, bond over obscure “Teletubbies” facts, fall in love and get married. They’re so into games, they even play Just Dance at the wedding reception.
Cut to a couple of years later. They are comfortably tucked away in the suburbs, and hosting weekly game nights with friends, the dimwitted Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and long-time couple Kevin and Sarah (Lamorne Morris and Hamilton, Ont.-born Kylie Bunbury). They used to invite neighbours Debbie and Gary (Jesse Plemons), but since Debbie moved out, they take great pains to ensure that Gary, a creepy cop, doesn’t find out about their get-togethers.
On a personal level they’re trying to have a baby, but it isn’t going well. Their doctor (Camille Chen) thinks stress is making it impossible for them to conceive. The source? Max’s brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler). He’s a good-looking, venture capitalist who loves to flaunt his wealth. “He’s like the Mark Wahlberg to Max’s Donnie,” says Ryan.
When Brooks rolls into town, driving Max’s dream car, a vintage Stingray, he throws a special game night at his new, rented mansion. With no Risk, Scrabble or Monopoly in sight, the regular gamers gather for a murder mystery party. The winner gets the Stingray. “This will be a game night to remember,” Brooks says.
When the murder mystery turns into a real kidnapping, the game players are sucked into a world of intrigue as they solve the “game.” It seems there’s more to Brooks than meets the eye. “I can’t believe your brother has been lying to us this whole time,” guffaws Ryan. “He’s even cooler than I thought.”
This isn’t a Hitchcock movie. There’s no real mystery in “Game Night,” just some twists and turns and engaging performances from a cast game to have fun. It’s more about spending time with the characters on their wild night out.
Much of the humour comes from the casual back-and-forth between Bateman and McAdams. They interact like an old married couple, not people in a bad situation. Bateman is a natural at this kind of deadpan comedy and McAdams, who generally features in dramas, keeps pace. Their chemistry is one of the reasons this slight comedy works as well as it does.
Magnussen, who plays a likable dim bulb, and Morris and Bunbury who work their way through a mystery of their own making aid the above-the-title stars. The biggest surprise and certainly the film’s oddest performance belong to Plemons. Best-known for his work on “Breaking Bad” and “Fargo,” he mixes deadpan delivery with a thousand-yard-stare that is as unnerving as it is funny.
“Game Night” isn’t slap-your-knee funny, but it is an amiable enough comedy that makes up in charm what it lacks in procedural thrills.
EVERY DAY: 2 STARS
Based on David Levithan's New York Times bestseller “Every Day,” the new teenage romance starring Angourie Rice, asks what would it be like to really get inside the head of the person you love?
Rice plays Rhiannon, a 16-year-old high school student dating a popular jock named Justin (Justice Smith). He’s a bit oblivious, the kind of guy who thinks a great date involves hanging around his bedroom, eating McDonalds and playing “Legend of Zelda.” One morning, feeling playful, Rhi suggests they skip class and spend the day together. “Is that something we do?” He asks, before hightailing out of school and into an afternoon of romantic adventure. It is, Rhiannon says, the greatest day of her life.
Unfortunately, the next day, Justin doesn’t remember any of it. He has a vague memory of the fun, like he’s seeing it through a mist, but soon he’s back up to his old tricks, reverting back to the guy he was before their magical date. What’s going on? It seems Justin was simply “inhabited” for twenty-four hours by A, a wandering spirit who invades random bodies, always of the same age and only for 24 hours. It’s “Quantum Leap with a big helping of teenage ennui.
As Rhiannon slowly comes to grips with what’s going on, she meets A’s newest incarnation, a teenage girl. “Where is A?” she asks. “He’s here. He’s not here, here.”
Confused yet? It gets foggier when Rhiannon and A, the amorphous spirit, become romantically involved. “Not everyone’s body aligns with their mind,” A says. “I am asking you to give me a chance.” The love is real, regardless of the meat suit the spirit has jumped into. When A lands in the form of Alexander (Owen Teague), a strapping young man, it seems the perfect blend of metaphysical and physical. Enter the melodramatic teen dilemma: How can you love someone whose life is not their own?
“Every Day” takes the long way around to drive home the point that making a spiritual connection with someone is just as important as clicking physically. After a deadly first 30 minutes that could have been from any generic indie teen drama, the story picks up once Rhiannon rebounds from Justin to the spirit world, but it never fully engages. Director Michael Sucsy embraces the supernatural afterschool special feel of the material, adding in a few playful touches. A spends some time in Rhiannon, modestly being careful not to look down while she’s in the shower, but he also muddies the already murky waters with a subplot about Rhiannon’s troubled father (Michael Cram) and harried mother (an underused Maria Bello). Their story provides more relationship advice -- cultivate the ability to accept the change in others -- but adds little to the overall story.
“Every Day” feels like it skirts around the interesting stuff -- the exploration of what it means to be rootless, cut free of gender and family -- in favour of playing up the teen dream “instalove” aspects of the tale.
MOM AND DAD: 3 STARS
It is a safe bet that you’ve never seen a movie quite like “Mom and Dad.” Starring Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair as parents trying to murder their children, it is dark yet goofy. It’s trashy with no redeeming qualities and that’s what makes it great, or at least a fun night out at the movies.
Cage and Blair are Brent and Kendall Ryan, the slightly bored suburban parents of Carly (Anne Winters) and Josh (Zackary Arthur). He longs for his wild years. She is a devoted mom, but concerned about aging. When a mysterious plague or is it mass hysteria hits town, turning parents against their kids, Brent and Kendall spend 24 hours trying to trap and kill their kids. Finally they can act on all the resentments they’ve been harbouring against them for forcing them to grow up and leave their youth behind.
“Mom and Dad” is the very definition of a midnight movie. Cage, a master at playing heightened reality, has rarely been, well, Cagier, and the sight of Blair sizing up tools to kill her daughter -- should she use a meat hammer or long kitchen knife -- is delightful in the most disturbing of ways.
Director Brian Taylor brings the same wild anarchic spirit he brought to movies like “Crank” and “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.” In a quick 85 minutes, he provides set-up, quick character studies and enough twisted action to keep eyeballs dancing. And then, as though he ran out of film and couldn’t finish, it ends. It cuts to black just as it feels like the story is going to head into even wilder territory. I doubt it’s a cliffhanger to trigger a sequel. The story doesn’t have very far to go. So the suddenness of it comes as a shock -- almost as much of a shock as parents trying to gas their own offspring.
I suppose “Mom and Dad” may have a secret agenda, a hidden subtext about filicide and the toxic relationships that push people to do the unthinkable, but if it is there, it is hidden under layers of raucously un-PC humour.