New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Culture
9 March 2018updated 30 Jul 2021 10:02am

US comedies’ new favourite formula: a suburban lead in a high-octane action setting

From Date Night to Horrible Bosses to Bad Neighbours to Game Night. Is anyone else noticing a pattern?

By Anna Leszkiewicz

Brash American comedies have discovered a formula of late. Take a straight-laced, suburban lead (probably Jason Bateman), give them a competitive streak, and dump them in an environment that triggers it. Their actions escalate with incredible speed: soon, they’re committing federal crimes in slapstick high-octane action scenes. Over the last decade, we’ve seen it in Date Night, Horrible Bosses (1 and 2), Bad Neighbours (1 and 2), Office Christmas Party, Keeping Up With the Joneses, The House and, now, Game Night.

It follows Bateman as Max, who is, along with his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams), obsessed with holding game nights. One week, his richer, cooler brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) hosts an immersive role-playing mystery. But Brooks is secretly a criminal smuggler, and is genuinely kidnapped during the game, leading to shoot-outs and car chases our leads don’t realise are real.

Most films in this genre are, to put it bluntly, absolutely terrible. I cringed through the Horrible Bosses films, written by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the directors of Game Night – so my expectations were low. But there are unanticipated joys here. Pop culture punchlines reference Mark and Donnie Wahlberg, Taken 3, Skeet Ulrich, Iron Man and the Baldwin brothers. The supporting cast steal the show: Ingrid Goes West’s Billy Magnussen has perfect comic timing as the group’s handsome dunce; Black Mirror’s Jesse Plemons’s wounded, deadpan cop next door teeters just on the edge of the psychopathic; and Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan grounds the more caricatured turns. And with a triple (quadruple?) bluff plot, Game Night seems to know the pitfalls of its tropes – playing with them just enough to surprise potentially tired audiences. 

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Content from our partners
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce
How to reform the apprenticeship levy

This article appears in the 07 Mar 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The new cold war