Photo | Warner Bros. / Walt Disney Pictures
FROM LEFT: In “Game Night,” Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman host a group of friends who meet regularly for game nights until they find themselves entangled in a real-life mystery when the shady brother of one of them is seemingly kidnapped by dangerous gangsters. Ewan McGregor plays the grownup “Christopher Robin,” who reconnects with his childhood friends to remember the loving and playful boy still inside.
A lively and well-rounded cast commits fully to the unfolding madness in the zany action comedy “Game Night.” Jason Bateman winces his way through escalating disasters and reversals, but it is Rachel McAdams who steals the show, and she has never been more hilarious, delightful and commanding.
While this is first and foremost an outrageous and luridly violent comedy, the onscreen marriage of Bateman and McAdams is compelling, even when events are at their most unbelievable.
The pair play Annie and Max, a sardonically competitive married couple whose weekly routine of a “game night” with their best friends is upended when Max’s older brother comes for a visit. In the maniacally handsome and aggressively likeable character of older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) we immediately see the seeds of the inferiority complex that drives Max to compete. Brooks blows into town, boasting of his riches and driving Max’s all-time dream car, a 1976 Corvette Stingray. Suddenly, all of Max and Annie’s plans, like starting a family, seem small and dreary.
Brooks moves game night from Max’s house to his huge, cool rental house, and one-ups their standard Scrabble with an elaborate role-playing murder mystery game. Moments later, an extremely convincing pair of thugs burst in, fight Brooks and drag him out while the impressed party guests scarf snacks, assuming it is part of the game.
An ongoing series of surprises reveal what ends up being staged and what ends up being real, and even if you are not always shocked by the outcome, it’s extremely amusing. Similar even in name to the 2010 comedy “Date Night,” the fun of this film is to see average suburban adults suddenly called upon to fight criminals, drive getaway cars and occasionally hurt people, but the characters in this film dive in with a darkly gleeful edge. They pleasantly surprise themselves with their ingenuity and their dedication to one another.
Written and directed by John Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who started out as an actor playing the little brother Sam Weir in the short-lived teen masterpiece “Freaks and Geeks,” “Game Night” is deft and zippy and pays just enough attention to the characters’ real problems to give viewers an identifiable handle on the wild events.
The supporting cast is all individually hilarious, especially Kyle Chandler as the smarmy Brooks and Jesse Plemons (“Breaking Bad,” “Fargo”) as the disturbingly bland yet persistent neighbor, a lovelorn, divorced policeman who has been quietly dropped from the game night invite list. His disorienting resemblance to Matt Damon is an unintentional sight gag in and of itself.
This is a vulgar, violent, solidly R-rated comedy that is nevertheless sophisticated rather than gross. You get curse words and blood rather than toilet humor, so that, in its own way, makes for a nice change of pace. It’s a good comedy for grownups and highly recommended for a date night.
“Game Night” is currently available to rent.
Don’t forget the Saenger Summer film Series is still going on, with “Pulp Fiction” coming up Aug. 5, “Mary Poppins” Aug. 12 and “The Wizard of Oz” Aug. 19. All shows start at 3 p.m.; tickets are $6 for adults and $3 for kids under 12 and seniors over 60.
At that price, you can afford to donate generously to their donation drive for McKemie Place, Mobile’s only overnight shelter for homeless women. When you come to the movie (doors open at 2:30 p.m.), bring basic supplies — such as paper towels, bleach, laundry detergent, toilet paper, hand soap and sanitizer, Lysol, garbage bags and plastic cutlery — and get a free small popcorn in exchange for your donation. For additional information, visit www.mobilesaenger.com.