By Eleanor Ringel Cater
You’re not supposed to want to escape from so-called “escapist” entertainment…are you?
Well, 20 minutes into the “mindless fun” of the new Jason Bateman comedy –“Game Night” – I was ready to swap my husband and my dogs for the nearest exit.
Not that Bateman is to blame. In fact, he and Rachel McAdams, who plays his wife, are easily the best things in this smug grab-bag of broad slapstick and endless pop-culture references. (Think of being trapped in a game of Trivial Pursuit, Hollywood Edition).
The set-up is clever enough. A group of friends meets regularly for a “game night” which usually means Charades or Scrabble. But one weekend, Bateman’s glamorous globetrotting older brother (Kyle Chandler), who has always outdone him at everything, offers to host.
True to form, Chandler decides to up the ante. His “game” is a kidnapping/murder mystery put on by a company called Murder We Wrote. Only, Chandler’s high-risk lifestyle throws things off. The staged game is replaced by a genuine kidnapping involving real thugs, real mayhem and real life-and-death situations.
Initially, it’s amusing enough to watch the players “play” along with what they still think is fun ‘n’ games. But a bullet in the arm, a blood-soaked West Highland terrier and some bad guys who aren’t messing around soon convinces them otherwise. And then it’s just…well…yes, there are thriller/comic complications, including random gunplay and car chases.
But mostly it’s just an avalanche of lame Hollywood “insider” jokes. Some ritzy digs evoke, “Nice house, Tony Stark.” As one protesting player is dragged away, a still-complacent Bateman snidely comments, “And the Independent Spirit Award goes to…”
There’s a silly bit about Denzel Washington, an off-handed dis of Edward Norton, a homage to “Taken 3.”
This is all bottom-feeder stuff, aimed at people who feel cool because they know what the Independent Spirit Awards are or who watch “TMZ” more than they’d like to admit.
By the time “Game Night” gets to its “Usual Suspects” end credits, you may be thinking, gee, how could they have left out the one movie reference this thing really deserves?
“I’ve been slimed.”