I caught up with Game Night over its opening weekend, having missed the one press screening to which I was invited, but I have to say it exceeded my expectations for an action comedy that seems a tad smarter than recent entries in the genre. This is a smart adult flick that manages to be as much fun as a game night itself, maybe even more.

As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), that is due to a terrific cast that never overplays their hand, even as the premise threatens to careen out of control. Fortunately it never really does, despite the obligatory chases and credibility-stretching situations common to this type of movie. Writer Mark Perez and directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein keep it all afloat with a number of amusing scenes that pay off big in laughs.

Of course it helps to have such accomplished actors as Jason Bateman (also a producer) and Rachel McAdams on board as your leads. They play a comfortably married pair named Max and Annie whose whole relationship was built on their mutual love for games-playing. It continued even to their wedding and now for their once-a week game nights for friends. Into this equation one night comes Brooks (Kyle Chandler), Bateman’s unpredictable but clearly successful brother who arrives with the announcement that he is going to host a game night at his uber-expensive house — a murder-mystery concept with his fancy sports car as the ultimate prize.

Joining Max and Anna are their game night regulars Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), along with a female-obsessed single guy Ryan (Billy Magnussen), who usually brings a clueless date du jour to the brainy evenings. But this time, with the stakes dramatically increased, brings a work colleague, an older woman than his usual types named Sarah (Sharon Horgan), whom he thinks will add the smarts he needs to win. Predictably, real life invades this scenario when Brooks is kidnapped, a “fake” FBI agent is shot, and all hell breaks loose. But is it all part of the elaborate game Brooks has concocted, or are there really bad guys inadvertently invited to the party?

New Line

There are so many twists that we won’t spoil them for you here, but ultimately this movie has nothing on its agenda but to entertain, and that it does in spades despite some fairly graphic violence. Even with all the mayhem around them, the characters all have other things on their minds, including Max and Annie’s ongoing but so far unsuccessful effort to have a child. And then there is the running conversation between Kevin and Michelle, after a quick game of Never Have I Ever (slept with a celebrity) leads Kevin to question his wife why she hesitated to answer that one. It also results in the opportunity for a lot of great Denzel Washington gags including one at the end of the final credits, so stay in your seats.

Also getting into the middle of the action is next-door neighbor Max (Jesse Plemons), a cop who used to be a regular at game nights but now is persona non grata after his divorce. He can’t understand why he is no longer invited and spends most of his time alone at home with his white fluffy dog as his only company. But Max becomes a key player as the night rolls on, and Plemons deadpans his way to maximum effect. One scene where the dog has been drenched inadvertently with dripping blood from Bateman’s injured arm is hysterical and steals the show. Also turning up are Michael C. Hall and Danny Huston among others, but I won’t give the reasons for their appearances.

Hats off to Bateman, who is simply one of the best at this sort of thing, and McAdams, who shows a real adeptness for comedy here. Don’t expect to see Game Night at next year’s Oscars, but as a good time out at the movies, it is totally game.

Producers are Bateman, John Davis, John Fox and James Garavente. Warner Bros released the New Line Cinema production over the weekend to promising box office. I predict strong word of mouth, and deservedly so.

Do you plan to see Game Night? Let us know what you think.