Haven’t we all seen a fun evening go a little off the rails? The hostess runs out of queso dip too soon; your drunk boss breaks a vase; somebody maybe throws up in the hamper. In the movies, though — or at least in a certain kind of black comedy — “messy” tends to meet a whole different standard: Tranquilized tigers in the bathroom, accidental kidnappings, drug raids, a dead prostitute or two.
Game Night belongs to that particular brand of big-screen crazy (see also: Rough Night, Date Night, Office Christmas Party, The Hangover, The Night Before, This Is the End) where chaos reigns and logic fails, but you keep laughing just about hard and often enough not to care. The plot jump-off is pretty much exactly what the title implies, with Max and Annie (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams) meeting cute over pub trivia in the opening credits and carrying on their shared passion for fierce rounds of Jenga, charades, and Settlers of Catan alongside friends like the happily coupled Michelle and Kevin (Kylie Bunbury and New Girl’s Lamorne Morris) and blissful idiot Ryan (Billy Magnussen), who tends to bring a new date every time — typically some gorgeous, vapid millennial who probably can’t spell millennial.
But on this particular evening, Ryan has roped in a ringer, his brainy Irish officemate Sarah (Catastrophe’s brilliant Sharon Horgan), and there’s another special guest, Max’s older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler). He’s the cooler sibling in every way; suave, confident, carelessly rich. He’s also got his own idea for upping the Game Night ante by paying an adult-fun adventure company to arrange one of those scavenger hunts with hidden clues and for-hire “bad guys.” The prize is bigger too: the keys to his Corvette Stingray.
Except Brooks isn’t actually a law-abiding businessman, and the masked thugs who show up aren’t actors. Max, Annie et al. don’t know that yet, but they’ll learn over the next 100 minutes, in which Third Eye Blind becomes a plot point, a small dog drinks blood, and somebody gets sucked into a jet engine. The script, by Mark Perez (Accepted), tosses off a certain kind of surreal ratatat humor at RPMs high enough that the jokes that don’t land hardly register. And Jesse Plemons is great as Gary, the cop next door with an affect so flat and a gaze so unblinkingly intense you genuinely wonder whether his basement is full of Beanie Babies or pickled body parts. (Michael C. Hall, Danny Huston, Jeffrey Wright, and Chelsea Peretti also make small, memorable cameos).
Chandler doesn’t really get much to do beyond bluff and be Duct-taped, but Bateman stays busy doing his Wry Everyguy thing, a beta bro with the best dry one-liners. And McAdams, whose comedic skills have gone unsung for way too long, is dizzy fun. The whole movie is, actually, even if it pretty much evaporates on impact — a kooky, vicarious loop of Mad Libs meets Cards Against Humanity, where whoever’s holding the popcorn last wins. B+