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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Game Night

“The 15:17 to Paris” and “Red Sparrow” are also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

There’s something about the names “Max and Annie” that practically cries out “cute couple who are meant for each other.” For Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) in “Game Night,” it happens to be true.

The movie’s opening montage shows how these two ultra-competitors met during a pub trivia night in college, hit it off, and got married. The one constant in their lives is their regular weekend gathering with their friends to play various games of skill, knowledge, and chance—always in the safety and comfort of their home and always with plenty of Tostitos and salsa on hand.

That all changes when Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town. Brooks is a highly successful venture capitalist who enjoys rubbing his wealth and success in Max’s face. He even decides to one up Max on his precious game night. Brooks decides to invite Max and Annie as well as their friends Kevin (Lamorne Morris), Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), Ryan (Billy Magnussen), and Sarah (Sharon Horgan) over to his house for his version of game night. For the second week in a row, Gary (Jesse Plemons), a lonely, recently divorced, dog-loving, stone-faced cop and neighbor to Max and Annie, is not invited.

Brooks’ version of game night is to stage his own kidnapping and have the couples solve clues to find him. The first couple that does so wins a vintage sports car—one coveted by Max from the time he was a child.

All goes well until the middle of a speech by an “FBI Agent” (Jeffrey Wright) is interrupted by masked goons. They have a multi-room struggle throughout the house with Brooks. Max, Annie, and the rest of the guests think it’s part of the show. It may or may not be. We’re not entirely sure ourselves until later on.

“Game Night” was directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the duo who co-wrote “Horrible Bosses.” Here, a similar formula is applied, where a group of friends get themselves into an outrageous situation, hijinks ensue, and they need to figure a way out of it. The journey takes them to multiple comedic set pieces, some of which are funnier than others. Even the less-funny ones, such as an unfortunate instance involving Max, a leaking gun shot wound, and a fluffy white dog, are still entertaining—albeit in a face-palming, “OMG what’s he doing?!” kind of way.

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As great as the two lead actors are, Morris and Plemons are the show stealers for me. Morris’ Kevin is given some of the funniest lines in the movie, including a surprisingly biting dig at the awful Buzzfeed Web site and an amusing running gag about the durability of modern day glass tables, which itself is a good satire on glass tables in action movie fight scenes. I also have to hand it to Morris that he does an incredibly hilarious and spot on Denzel Washington impression.

Plemons’ cop Gary takes the notion of the straight man to the extreme. His deadpan delivery and stiff nature are an excellent counter point to Bateman’s cool, easy-going, and unphased Max. Gary is the type of guy who could take even the most banal small talk and make it extremely awkward. His punchlines are in the silence that follows immediately after he says something—coupled with his stare. The stare is what sells it.

Without giving anything away, which is practically a sin in a movie like this, I like the fact that the final resolution in “Game Night” gave me what I expected, yet at the same time it didn’t. Just go into this movie with the usual expectations and you’ll see what I mean. Rent it.

Also New This Week

The 15:17 to Paris

The problem, if I may call it that, at the heart of “The 15:17 to Paris” is that the actual event that inspired the movie is so short. That is, after a terrorist armed with an AK-47 and 300 ammo rounds attacked a train bound from Amsterdam to Paris in August 2015, three friends--Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Anthony Sadler (all of whom play themselves)—stopped him and saved everyone on board.

This event makes up about one-third of this ninety-minute movie. The rest of the runtime is dedicated to how they met as children at a Christian school in Sacramento, CA, stayed in touch when they got older, and then planned the trip that got them on that train. The movie wants to be as even-keeled as possible, but focuses mostly on Spencer, as he is the one who had the most struggle--and therefore the most story-worthy drama--in his life.

Admittedly, this is a tough nut to crack. I can see why a director like Clint Eastwood would take it on—it’s an unshapely mess that only a seasoned director can mold into something watchable. At this, Eastwood does his best, and I am sure this movie is better than it would be in the hands of most other directors out there. However, the problem is never fully solved. “The 15:17 to Paris” can’t be about the terrorist attack, because there isn’t enough story for a full length feature. It perhaps could have been a character study. However, a character study would need to be in depth and focus on one of the heroes. This movie has three, so that’s a no go.

As it is, “The 15:17 to Paris” is a mish-mash of one part coming of age story, one part travelogue of Europe, and one part heroic event. Of the three parts, the last one is the only one that’s worthwhile. The rest is superficial filler that is nowhere near as compelling. This doesn’t make the movie bad, and I like the idea of these three brave young men getting their own movie. Plus once things start happening on the train, the movie starts to shine. It may be too late, but it’s certainly not too little. Stream it.

Red Sparrow

The classic combination of sex and violence are taken up a notch in “Red Sparrow.” Now it’s rape and torture.

After ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) suffers an unfortunate accident on stage, her government official uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) recruits her to do some work for him. After that assignment goes pear-shaped and Dominka gets raped, she is sent to “sparrow school,” or as one character so bluntly puts it at one point, “whore school.” It’s here where one of her fellow male recruits finds her so irresistible that he tries to rape her in the shower. Having learned a lesson from the first time, she fends him off. She also confirms, based on a previous scene, that she does have a knack for beating people up in showers.

Her next assignment is to go to Budapest and get cozy with American agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). Nash is working with a mole inside the Russian government. Dominika’s mission is to get Nash to give up the name of the mole and report it back to Moscow.

“Red Sparrow” wouldn’t be much of a Hollywood movie if the two leads didn’t fall for each other, and they do. There is some double and triple crossing that happens, but at two hours and twenty minutes the movie progresses languidly, punctuated by a scene here and there of suspense or torture to keep things interesting, at least viscerally. “Red Sparrow” is basically a trashy, exploitative B-movie with A-list actors and a shiny Hollywood polish. Don’t be fooled by the surface. What’s underneath is still filth. Kinda boring filth too. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Early Man,” animated tale about a young caveman who unites his tribe to push back against the incursion of a Bronze Age city, featuring the voice talent of Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, and Timothy Spall.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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