* * 1/2
Can the warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia sustain you through an entire movie? It almost did for me, with the aid of the cozily comforting vibes of Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman (boy, wouldn’t they be a lovely set of parents?), in the case of Game Night, a film that could, were it not for the occasional smartphone, convince most viewers that it was actually made in 1990.
Or 1978. Foul Play, with Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase, set a modern template for the action mystery comedy where the leads are a woman and a man, and the premise involves murder but the tone is totally light. Bird On A Wire, from 1990, teamed Hawn with Mel Gibson; within the last decade, Date Night (2010) teamed Tina Fey and Steve Carell. They all actually owe The Thin Man series of movies (six in all, 1934-1947), in which husband and wife Nick and Nora Charles have a lot of fun – as do we – investigating crimes, almost always murders. It’s a warm, easy-watching sub-genre, not dissimilar in tone and intended audience as what we now call “Cozy Mysteries”, where the crime is nowhere near as important as the banter.
The banter is not great in Game Night, and, although the leads seem perfect on paper – they’re both sparkling clean Nice Movie Stars known for inoffensive material and light comedy – they struggle to fill the shoes of performers like Hawn or The Thin Man’s William Powell because, unusually for both of them, they’re trying too hard. McAdams, an actress I truly always like, feels the need to be cute in every single scene; it literally feels like she’s asking herself, “What would Goldie do?”, and the result is inorganic and unfunny. A scene where she blithely mishandles a loaded firearm because she thinks it’s a toy may have been gold in Goldie’s hands, but it’s awful here, and should have been cut from the movie. Besides being overplayed – at least twice, she sticks the gun in her mouth – it’s tasteless.
Elsewhere, the film gets the tone right, and just bathing in these extremely familiar tropes, as I say, may just get you to the end with a smile on your face. Not a chuckle, though; I didn’t laugh once, and I was in a “Lux” recliner seat and a very good mood. The film spins endless jokes and almost none are funny. It simply reminds you of better films, and in doing so, survives for one hundred minutes.