★★★ GAME NIGHT Rachel McAdams is bliss in bonkers comedy thriller
Fake news takes on new meaning in the largely gonzo Game Night, which leaves spectators wondering moment-to-moment whether what they are watching is reality or part of a continually unfolding game. Telling of a gathering of six whose game night doesn't quite, um, go according to plan, this co-directing effort between John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein throws numerous genres into the celluloid megamix and blends them to the max. And if the results sometimes tip towards self-indulgence or self-parody, the movie is still far cleverer and more engaging than one had any right to expect.
For that, credit a hugely engaging cast headed by Justin Bateman and, especially, Rachel McAdams as a horned-up couple who seem unable to have a child but are able to keep one another entertained with their offbeat antics. Barely have they been introduced before we find them bemoaning their apparent infertility in the most glamorous doctor's office imaginable, an encounter that will itself come home to roost before Mark Perez's dizzying script spins to a close. Childlessness may be an issue but it is forgotten in the white heat of the competitive assemblage of chums with whom Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams) like to match wits – even if it can be one hurdle too far to find ways of communicating Edward Norton to a room full of enthusiasts who can't get the clues. So far so fanciful, until such point as the group's faux-reality frolics are crashed by several masked intruders who don't look as if they're going to be a whole lot of fun. What ensues taps into the familiar landscape of the shoot-'em-up and the car chase, while continuing to catch both the characters and the audience offguard. These people may have fallen down some rabbit hole of their own devising, but couldn't it be argued that we have as well, in a topsy-turvy world that finds its reflection onscreen, alongside references to Trump and racist websites, not to mention such diverse films as Django Unchained, Eyes Wide Shut, and Fight Club.
The sort of film one can imagine cineastes parsing in due course via elaborate doctoral theses that would make the likes of Annie and Max glaze over, its delight comes from actors clearly thrilled to be subverting various genres even as they inhabit them. There's more than a trace of a modern-day Tracy and Hepburn to Bateman and McAdams. New York theatre veteran Billy Magnussen is sweetly hilarious as an agreeable stud muffin who doesn't quite get that Ireland and England are two different countries (he and Sharon Horgan, in ace form as one of his longer-lasting dates, pictured above). And in one of the variously skilled ways that the film folds recognisable tensions into its forever-evolving highwire act, continual mileage arises from the sparring match between Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and his partner Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), who lets slip that she once slept with a celebrity but won't reveal who.The circle widens out to include not just some notably impolite baddies who seem to be liking the game a bit too much but a hilariously weird next-door neighbour (Jesse Plemons, pictured above) who doesn't take to the notion that the game might be happening without him. Sibling rivalry, meanwhile, sparks the shifting tension between Max and his ultra-smooth big brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), a moneyman who lives life quite literally in the fast land and has given his younger bro' a complex on all sorts of topics, including penis size.
At times, the movie substitutes mere noise for actual invention, though even then the soundtrack thrums along to standards by Engelbert Humperdinck and Queen. And the whole is often more rewarding in its throwaway moments than in any of the more elaborate set pieces. For my part, I'll long treasure such swiftly-delivered aperçus to the effect that "China is the future", and no journalist of a certain age will fail to respond to Magnussen's wide-eyed amazement when he at one point asks in astonishment of one of his game-mates, "You still read the newspaper?" In a film packed with surprise, that revelation may be the biggest shock of all.