Game Night Movie Review

Too many big studio comedies can be numbered by the handful of gags that work while the rest fall flat. This is thankfully not the case with Game Night. It’s gimmicky, sure. It’s a bit forgettable. Yet it’s consistently amusing and doesn’t overburden itself with too much sentimentality. As far as the genre goes as of late, that’s enough to mark this a success.

The pic comes from co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who last made the more consistently unfunny Vacation reboot. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are Max and Annie, married with no children even though she’s ready. Their biggest shared love is one of competitiveness, which includes their game nights with friends. Their usual group includes playboy Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and childhood sweethearts Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury). Next door neighbor and police officer Gary (Jesse Plemons) is a former regular until his recent divorce has turned him into quite the weirdo.

Our main couple’s typical showing of charade and board gaming dominance is interrupted when Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) pops up. Brooks is the ultra cool brother with a better bone structure and larger pocketbook that Max harbors jealousy for. Instead of Clue or Risk, Brooks has a different idea for game night involving a kidnapping and real actors interacting with the group. The players won’t know what’s real and what isn’t.

Wouldn’t you know it? Turns out some real kidnappers turn up and that Brooks may be involved in some seedy stuff. What follows is a search for a Faberge egg, guns that the principals think aren’t real (an overused gag by now), squeaky toys used to bite down on for pain (a never before seen gag that’s pretty darn funny), and Bateman’s patented ironic detachment that always seems to work.

Night is served with a game cast. Standouts include Plemons as the creepy but probably well-meaning neighbor and Magnussen as the dim bulb participant of the team. Sharon Horgan is his much smarter date for the evening and she provides some humorous moments as well. The screenplay also provides a twist or two that are genuinely surprising.

The actual concept of a game night may not be as joyous as it’s supposed to be on occasion. You need fun people there. This movie has them. Like real game nights, you may forget some of details by the next day but you’ll remember enjoying it.

*** (out of four)

Game Night Box Office Prediction

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are a couple whose night of innocent fun goes horribly wrong in the comedy Game Night, opening next Friday. From John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the guys behind Horrible Bosses and the 2015 Vacation reboot, the pic costars Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen, Michael C. Hall, Jesse Plemons, and Jeffrey Wright.

Night could manage to appeal to moviegoers looking for a straight comedy in the midst of other genre fare in the marketplace. Black Panther will certainly being tearing up competition in weekend #2 and Annihilation is also out there for sci-fi fans. As far as movies reaching for the funny bone, this stands alone.

I could envision Game Night performing similarly to recent Bateman outings like Horrible Bosses 2 and Office Christmas Party. That would put it in the mid teens range for its start.

Game Night opening weekend prediction: $16.3 million

For my Annihilation prediction, click here:


Office Christmas Party Movie Review

A good portion of the populace can probably relate to that work holiday gathering we’d rather forget. Maybe one or several drinks too many. Perhaps a comment to a coworker that doesn’t seem wise later in the light of day. There’s a lot of funny directions you can go with the concept of Office Christmas Party, but the film mostly misuses them as it hurls in too many directions. The end result is one we’ll forget quickly after we’ve experienced it.

Director Will Speck and Josh Gordon give us their third major feature. It’s not as good as their first (Blades of Glory) nor as bad as their last (The Switch). The latter featured Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston and so does this. Bateman is chief tech officer of Chicago corporation Zenotech, a family business run by Aniston. She’s the unfriendly task master and bottom line efficiency expert that her employees are afraid of. Her brother (T.J. Miller) is the free spirit who runs the day-to-day operations. He’s not great at his job, but his minions adore him.

Tough financial times cause the possibility of the Windy City branch closing. Bateman and Miller decide to throw an all-out Yuletide bash in a last-ditch attempt to woo a big money client (Courtney B. Vance, last seen gloriously chewing scenery as Johnnie Cochran in “The People Vs. O.J. Simpson”). Here, instead of memorably defending America’s most notorious running back, he gets sprayed in the face with a snow machine filled with cocaine.

There’s plenty of R rated comedy as the employees let loose and there’s a lot of them and their subplots to keep up with. We have the single mom (Vanessa Bayer) looking for companionship (it’s one of the more humorous ones). There’s Bateman’s assistant (Olivia Munn) and their romantic tension (it’s one of the more boring ones). And supremely talented comedic actors like Kate McKinnon (who has her moments) and Rob Corddry are in the mix as well. Jillian Bell, who made a hilarious villain in 22 Jump Street, plays a drug dealer here and her inclusion is mostly wasted. The main plot involves the love/hate relationship between siblings Miller and Aniston and it doesn’t provide much (other than a chance to see the former “Friends” star berate a little girl in an airport).

With this cast, there are bound to be some decently humorous bits here and there, but Office Christmas Party might have been more successful with a little more focus among the ribaldry.

** (out of four)


Office Christmas Party Box Office Prediction

Comedic holiday hijinks ensue next weekend as Office Christmas Party RSVP’s into theaters. The R rated pic features a cast of familiar faces including Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jillian Bell, Courtney B. Vance, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Matt Walsh and Kate McKinnon. Josh Gordon and Will Speck handle directorial duties and their previous effort was 2010’s The Switch, which featured Bateman and Aniston.

The Paramount release could benefit from both its cast and the fact that drunken and wild work XMas bashes are something many can relate to. Party comes from a story originated by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who wrote The Hangover. It also has no competition in the second weekend of December in its genre.

I’ll predict a decent number of moviegoers attend this Party to the tune of a mid to high teens debut.

Office Christmas Party opening weekend prediction: $18.4 million

For my Miss Sloane prediction, click here:

Zootopia Movie Review

Disney’s Zootopia might be a kids animated pic, but as the studio has proven over and over  again (especially with certain Pixar entries) – there are important adult themes at play here. These are mainly focused on not letting fear and prejudice overcome our diversity and the betterment of society. If that sounds like a message we may need in 2016, your animal instincts are correct.

Zootopia is a gorgeously drawn land in which all animals live in harmony. Well, mostly harmony. There’s still crime in the world and that leads precocious bunny Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) to dream of being a police officer for the ZPD. She would be the first of her kind to join the force as it’s made up of “predator” animals. Those predators make up just a fraction of the population as opposed to the “prey”. And it’s the pre judgment of these predators that serves as the pic’s dramatic through line.

Hopps is determined to prove history wrong in her new job, but her first lowly assignment is parking meter duty. Wouldn’t you know, however, that the assignment puts her smack dab in the middle of a big case where various animals are going missing? She soon teams with petty con artist Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) and their adventures bring them to various sectors of our title like the Rainforest District and Little Rodentia (which is adorable).

The clever plot from screenwriters Jared Bush and Phil Johnston offers some genuine surprises as it unfolds. There’s political corruption and there’s well constructed action sequences that we’ve seen in many detective tales (or should we say detective tail here?). We also have some bits that will make parents laugh as much as their little ones. The sloth scene/DMV scene is pretty genius. There’s even a nice Breaking Bad reference for the old folks.

Even if Zootopia never completely reaches the heights of the studio’s masterpieces, it comes darn close a lot of the time. You’ll be happy kids receive its worthy message of individuality and perseverance while being howlingly entertained. Maybe its message is one the grown ups should pay attention to as well.

***1/2 (out of four)


Zootopia Box Office Prediction

Disney looks to end the box office domination of Deadpool next weekend with Zootopia, the studio’s 55th animated feature. It’s quite likely to succeed. The animal tale features the voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, and Shakira.

The pic has amassed positive reviews (currently 100% on Rotten Tomatoes) and it’s already done brisk business in overseas markets. Zootopia arrives just four months after a rare animated disappointment for The Mouse Factory – November’s The Good Dinosaur, which took in a much less than expected $121 million domestically.

That said, with a dearth of family fare out there, I expect this to improve on Dinosaur‘s numbers. An opening in the mid 50s seems most plausible.

Zootopia opening weekend prediction: $54.4 million

For my London Has Fallen prediction, click here:

For my Whiskey Tango Foxtrot prediction, click here:

For my The Other Side of the Door prediction, click here:

The Gift Movie Review

Many psychological thrillers have memorable moments, but are hampered by cliched third acts that are utterly predictable. Joel Edgerton’s The Gift is more the inverse. For a long portion of its deliberate running time, it feels like every other genre title that was much more popular over two decades ago (think The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Single White Female, Unlawful Entry). They’ve been called the “Blank from Hell” movies. Fatal Attraction = Mistress from Hell. Roommate, Cop, Nanny from Hell.

The Gift is the Old Friend from Hell. Yet not really an old friend. Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a yuppie couple recently relocated to Los Angeles from Chicago. Upon shopping at a home furnishing store, they’re encountered by Gordo (Edgerton, directing himself in his feature debut). He describes himself as a high school acquaintance of Simon’s though Gordo is hardly recalled by him. Gordon’s soon dropping off housewarming presents with notes punctuated by smiley and frowny faces. Twenty years ago when this kind of film thrived, that particular character trait may have seemed odd. Now everyone does it. Don’t worry, though, because Gordo has plenty of other legitimate quirks. He’s socially awkward and seems fixated on Robyn. It gets to the point where Simon must confront him.

And that’s when the hallmarks of this genre are on full display. Missing dog. A pregnancy to complicate matters. Our heroine in the shower, possibly vulnerable. There are hints of a deeper history between Simon and Gordo the Weirdo as he calls him. Side note: Weirdo was Edgerton’s original title (he wrote it too) and it’s much better than The Gift.

When the connection between them is revealed, The Gift stops being a typical entry in the Blank from Hell canon and becomes something far more interesting. It’s just too bad it takes a while to get there. When it does move into genuinely unexpected territory, I found enough to savor to make this just worthy of a recommendation. The trio of lead performers elevate it as well. Edgerton is a perfectly acceptable Weirdo and Bateman continues to show he’s a pro in non-comedic roles, too. While much of The Gift keeps on giving familiar material, the final parts that intensify the character’s relationships and motivations are a welcome surprise.

*** (out of four)