Review – First Word, Sounds Like (“Game Night”)

Borrowing from such movies as The Game, Clue, The Man Who Knew Too Little and others, the same people that brought us Horrible Bosses have upped their game (sorry!) with another lively and wickedly outrageous comedy that infuses tons of movie and pop-culture references for geeks like me.

Meet Max and Annie (Jason Batemen & Rachel McAdams), two highly competitive gamesters that, after they get engaged (during a game of charades, no less), host a series of weekly game nights with their best friends. But they’re always careful not to invite their sad (but really creepy) neighbor, Gary (Jesse Plemons), who never takes off his police uniform. One game night, Max’s super-rich, boastful, and arrogant big brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), crashes the party, much to the delight of regular party-goers, Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and his wife, Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), dim-bulb bachelor, Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and his much smarter British date, Sarah (Sharon Horgan).

But forget Pictionary, Boggle, or Taboo for game night, Brooks has a much better idea: a murder-mystery game! Quicker than you can say, “The games afoot!”, an FBI agent (Jeffrey Wright) comes in the door with dossiers for the gang and then BOOM! Brooks is unceremoniously beaten up and abducted by a couple of thugs. Game on! As the three couples pair up to find ‘clues’ to where Brooks has been taken, their own personal demons start to rise to the surface. Do Max and Annie really want that baby they’ve been striving for? Did Michelle actually have an affair with a famous celebrity? And is Ryan just dating dumb girls because of his own insecurities?

Still thinking it’s just a game, super-sleuth’s Max & Annie catch up with the bad guys and get a big surprise when they find out that big brother Brooks isn’t who he says he is. An investment broker at Wall Street? Uh… nope! Brooks is into some very shady deals and his latest has to do with crime lords, Fabergé Eggs, and a whole lotta money. While Max & Annie are busy trying keep Brooks away (and alive) from REAL bad guys, the others soon figure out that this game has taken it up a notch and turned out to be very real.

BUT, being gamers, they’re up to the challenge and, like the Six Musketeers, they all come together to solve this mystery, even at gun point from the nefarious crime lord, “The Bulgarian” (Michael C. Hall). For someone who wrote forgettable movies like The Country Bears and Accepted, writer Mark Perez has rolled a seven here and come up with a winning screenplay that takes an old premise and breathed fresh energy into it, largely due to the frenetic pace and direction of John Francis Daly & Jonathan Goldstein. The writing is smart, fast-paced and witty, with some truly hilarious reverse-clichéd moments.

Daly & Goldstein, not satisfied with shooting a normal ‘point & shoot’ comedy like The House, had fun with the camera to heighten the mood and pacing. They even threw in some ’tilt-shift’ lens camera trickery that was very cool. Bateman and McAdams, with their great tennis banter, drive the movie, but for sheer nonsense and a delicious running gag, it’s Morris & Bunbury that takes a single-note joke and ratchet it up to a unexpected conclusion. Plemons, playing a so-disturbing-it’s-funny cop, steals every scene he’s in, and listen for all the side jokes and throw-away lines that are bounced around; they’re a geek-lovers dream! Glass tables, anyone?

 
CLUE (1985)
*
Back in 1985, in an unprecedented (and stupid) move by studios, you had your choice to see one of three possible endings of this movie when it out in the theaters, which sucked if you where curious about the other endings. Remember, there was NO internet and NO YouTube to see what you were missing. Bummer!
 
Based the goofy board game of the same name, six strangers are invited to a house for a party and told it’s going to be a game, and given all pseudonyms for their names: there’s womanizing doctor Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd), disgraced Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan), escort service owner Ms. Scarlet (Leslie Ann Warren), war profiteer Col. Mustard (Martin Mull), ‘black widow’ Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn), and gay closeted Mr. Green (Michael McKean). There’s also the butler Wadsworth (Tim Curry), who seems to know just about everything that’s going on.
 
Wadsworth reveals to the guests about a nasty little blackmailing scheme by a Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving), who gives them all a gift: a wrench, a candlestick, a lead pipe, a knife, a revolver, and a hangman’s rope. He suggests they murder Wadsworth to get rid of the blackmailing evidence, but after the lights go out, it’s Mr. Boddy that winds up dead! Who done it? Naturally, everyone has an alibi, and then the body count escalates with the cook, the maid, a wayward police officer, and even a singing telegram who shows up. Chaos ensues with everyone blaming each other and their hidden secrets coming out one by one.
 
In the end, a door-to-door evangelist (Howard Hessemen) reveals himself to be an undercover cop and, with the help of Wadsworth, explains in dramatic detail not only WHO the murderer is, but HOW they did it and with WHAT murder weapon… just like the board game. If you rent/stream the movie you get to see all three endings. Quite the hat trick by screenwriters John Landis (Animal House, American Werewolf in London) and director Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny, Nuns On The Run). Just looking at the synopsis you’d think this would be a terrible game-to-movie adaptation, but it’s not. It’s hilarious, infectious, wickedly creative, and best of all, well written and paced.
 
The dialogue isn’t dumbed-down, thanks to the marvelous cast that handles it. And what a cast it it! Wow! Try and get another one like that today? Forget it! Lynn really plays his comedy-card here to the hilt with enough ribald slapstick and goofy camera tricks to satisfy any Three Stooges or Abbott & Costello fan. The jokes and one-liners come at a rapid-fire pace with the actors giving it their best shot. It’s just a perfect popcorn movie to watch on a Saturday afternoon. See this!   
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