Saturday, March 3, 2018


Max and Annie met at a pub game night and competed their way to instant love. He proposed by charade at a home game night and their bridal waltz was done as an arcade game. Annie's getting clucky but Max's sperm count is down. Could it have to do with his alpha male brother being in town? Well, when he (Brooks) turns up for the next home game night it's in Max's dream car and he proceeds to barge in and take over, squeezing Max into a social corner in the process but then invites everyone to his own. There won't be any board games at that as Brooks has engaged a professional service of extreme role play involving FBI agents, heavies, rough and tumble, with the promise that it won't always be easy to tell game from reality. What could go wrong?

After twenty minutes of telescoping what does go wrong we're into it as the comedy collides with the thriller it's invoking and the blend that this movie is going for starts churning. Does it work? Mostly. The three couples and Brooks have a particular thread each that pretty much determines their various successes in getting through the game/heavy situation and this can disturb the surface slickness with its own variation of success.

Max and Annie whose competition theme is at the genetic level, fuelled by the sibling rivalry works best as they are given the sharpest writing. Kevin and Michelle's ongoing guessing game about a youthful sexual incident, while it can momentarily amuse, gets repetitive and irritating. The lunky character Ryan and his ring-in Sarah are the least resolved can be winceable. Is Ryan really as stupid as his dialogue renders him? When it's convenient the he be, yes. Is Sarah hiding some secret purpose in sticking around (they even ask her directly about this at one point) or is her stated list of reasons really the real ones? Is the creepy neighbour, a permanently grieving and uniformed cop, really just content to be excluded by Max and Annie's transparent lies to keep him from joining their game nights? Does he have a bigger plan of his own? You'll be asking those very questions and more as you watch and perhaps a further one of how much more of a writing exercise is this film going to be?

There are real laughs, though, don't get me wrong. An early practical gag gets a brilliant one liner that serves as the first of a long procession of cinema history jokes (even the film's title does this in the same way that a character describes something as Eyes Wide Fight Club). There is a lot of disarmingly arch dialogue as the driving competition between characters is sustained. But when this falls short of its intended power, often due to poor judgement in some of the timing, the saving grace of the whole thing comes to the rescue: the cast. Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Jesse Plemons et al. are all on game and manage to bring light to each creaky corner of lapse plotting or over stretched jokes (the self aware comment during the bribe scene comes across as one writer correcting another during an allnighter, rather than something more organic).

That said, this movie fulfils its poster promises. It takes the competition theme to reach for a life-lesson reconciliation through chaos that mixes reality with contrivance. What I was missing was the kind of edge that films of earlier times might have added. The Wars of the Roses, Little Murders or A New Leaf pushed a heightened competition into very dark territory, taking deals like romantic comedy to greatness with a mix of astute judgement and an eye for the forbidden in every joke. Here, we get a fun extension of a pub game night and a few tidy resolutions and even some convincing action sequences. Enjoy but enter with the bar set at a comfortable height. You'll laugh. You won't scream but you will laugh.

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