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Film / Game Night

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Game Night is an 2018 Black Comedy film (with additional action, crime, mystery and thriller elements) directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein and written by Mark Perez. The film stars Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, and the supporting cast includes Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Michael C. Hall and Jeffrey Wright.

Max Davis (Bateman) and his wife Annie (McAdams) are a Happily Married suburban couple with a mutual love of competition, which has led them to host a long-standing game night with other couples at their home. Unfortunately, Max and Annie are having trouble conceiving, which their doctor attributes to stress, due in no small part to the sudden arrival in town of Max's overbearing, one-upping brother Brooks (Chandler). Brooks crashes game night and invites his brother's group over to his own house the following week for a game night that he promises will "raise the stakes." Annie encourages Max to attend and beat Brooks at his own game, as a means of getting over his mental block.

When the big night arrives, Brooks reveals that the game is going to be a murder mystery. As armed men barge in and drag Brooks away, Max and his friends initially think it's All Part of the Show; turns out it's a very real abduction, and Max will have to solve the mystery fast if he doesn't want it to turn into a murder.

Game Night provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: The Bulgarian does have a long list of crimes including murder, torture, and human trafficking, but he's very polite when confronting the players and seems willing to let them walk away unharmed, until Brooks eats the MacGuffin. Even then, he only kidnaps Brooks and leaves the rest alone. He also neutralizes Gary (an armed police officer) by simply shooting him in the shoulder and knocking him out instead of killing him.
  • All for Nothing: Annie gets an armful of supplies and logs onto a Right-Wing Militia Fanatic website to figure out how to take the bullet out of Max's arm, and ends up cutting him all the way to the bone, whereupon they come across the exit wound... meaning that the bullet had already come back out.
  • All Part of the Show: The movie runs absolutely wild with this trope, Playing With it several different ways:
    • Initially played straight: An "FBI agent" enters the house and sets up the mystery, when two very real armed thugs burst in and attack both him and Brooks before abducting the latter. These thugs aren't the mystery company's actors, but Max and the rest of the party guests assume they are and that the abduction is scripted.
    • Inverted when the fake kidnappers arrive, brandishing prop guns. They're initially mistaken for real assailants but quickly break character when they realize something has gone awry. When Max and Annie rescue Brooks and find out the gun was real, they finally realize that it was not a game. This marks a turning point in the story where they don't dismiss what is going on.
    • Subverted later on, when it turns out the abduction and subsequent chase was part of the show — Max's neighbor Gary hijacked Brooks's game to find his way back into the weekly game night. The thugs are real felons, but Gary hired them to add some realism to the game, including his own fake death by gunshot, in exchange for their parole time being reduced.
    • Then it's Double Subverted: Gary actually didn't know anything about the MacGuffin that Brooks cheated The Bulgarian out of; when he shows up and shoots Gary, the players initially assume it's yet another plot twist. It isn't, and The Bulgarian kidnaps Brooks for real.
    • Finally parodied by the film's end: Max declares that he's ready to have kids with Annie and accept the responsibility of being a father, to which Brooks leans in and tells them that he engineered the entire night's events, including millions of dollars' worth of property damage and at least one death, to teach his brother the lessons he needed to learn. As Annie and Max stare in shocked silence, Brooks tells the unconscious Bulgarian to get up and break character; he doesn't, and Brooks admits after a Beat that he's just fucking with his brother.
  • Always Someone Better: A lot of Max's stress stems from the fact that Brooks manages to effortlessly outdo him at everything. However, it's ultimately subverted, as it turns out that the only reason Brooks manages to constantly win is through cheating, and his absurd wealth is due to very illegal activities. He also admits that all his lies about being a stock broker and venture capitalist were due to jealousy that Max actually went to college, has a legitimate job and is Happily Married. In Brooks's mind, Max is actually Always Someone Better because while his successes are more modest, he came by them honestly and has a much more stable and happy life.
  • Apathetic Citizens: When Annie is trying to remove the bullet from Max's arm while in an alleyway, a random pedestrian walks by, stops briefly to look at them, and moves on, mostly weirded out by them if anything.
  • Backhanded Compliment: Our first introduction to Brooks involves him giving various compliments about Max's life and home in a slightly condescending and dismissive tone.
  • The Bad Guys Are Cops:
    • Brooks tells Max that the Bulgarian is said to have moles in the police force, so the protagonists don’t dare go to the cops for help. If that wasn't the case, Max and company's part of the action probably would have ended halfway through the movie.
    • Technically speaking, the "bad guy" throughout much of the movie is a cop, since Gary, a police officer, turns out to have masterminded most of the events of the film to try and get back into the game night. Although this one's downplayed, since Gary is otherwise a decent man who's just a little too fixated on being part of the game night.
  • Big Brother Bully: Brooks towards Max. He enters the movie by making a big scene of arriving at Max and Annie's house, makes rather patronising comments about Max's life disguised as compliments, upstages, ridicules and humiliates Max in front of all of his friends and undermines him in order to beat him at the games. Annie is vocally disgusted with Brooks's behaviour after he leaves and notes that while she'd previously just assumed that Max's complex about Brooks was just down to standard Sibling Rivalry, after spending time with him she can fully see why Max has a problem with him. It's later revealed to be part of an Inferiority Superiority Complex; Brooks has lied about all of his achievements and hasn't actually managed to accomplish anything in his life without lying, cheating or breaking the law to do so, and knows full well that Max is actually the better person of the two of them.
  • Bloody Hilarious: After Max is shot in the arm, there are two major cases — first when Annie tries removing the bullet (and only when she touches his bone does she notice the exit wound!), and then when the bleeding gash ends up dripping on Gary's dog, to which Max's efforts to clean up the mess result in the blood getting all over the dog and all over the room.
  • Book Ends:
    • The opening montage includes Max and Annie meeting at a game night and smiling broadly into the camera at each other. Max then proposes to Ann through a game of Charades. In the end, Annie reveals that she's pregnant through a game of Pictionary, and her and Max smile broadly at each other into the camera.
    • Queen songs play prominently in the opening and closing scenes; the former uses "Don't Stop Me Now", and the latter uses "We Are the Champions".
  • Brainless Beauty: Ryan is a handsome man who is constantly one step behind the rest of the group. A joke at the end reveals that he's actually a Harvard graduate. He usually brings models as dates to game night who are even dimmer than he is. This is averted with Sarah, an intelligent businesswoman whom he brings as a ringer.
  • Brick Joke:
    • When Max and Annie are talking about Brooks and the stress his success causes Max with Dr. Chen, Dr. Chen asks if Brooks is single. In the "three months later" epilogue, she's present at Brooks's game night, and Brooks says that she will be moving in with him once his parole is over.
    • In Gary's initial interaction with Max and Annie, he spots that Gary is carrying three bags of Tostitos Scoops from the store, which seems to go against their insistence that they're not having a game night. Max claims there was a 3-for-1 deal on them, to which Gary asks, "How can that be profitable for Frito-Lay?" His String Theory display in the end credits includes a reply to an inquiry he had sent to Frito-Lay which confirms that Tostitos Scoops DO NOT come 3-for-1.
    • When the kidnapper calls, Ryan is scared because he sounds like a monster. The credits show that the voice changer Gary used has a "monster" option.
    • When undermining Max during the charades game at the beginning, Brooks tells the story of how Max was once caught trying to fellate himself with the help of a bungee cord. At the end, Brooks is amused to see Max tying up the Bulgarian with a bungee cord in a way that looks a lot like self-fellation.
      Brooks: Whoa. Well, look at that. Put a bungee cord in your hand, you go straight to the pervy place, don't ya?
  • Broken Pedestal: Of a sort, at least. While Max resents Brooks, he also envies his high-flying cool lifestyle and Annie accuses him of resisting starting a family because of this. However, it's eventually exposed throughout the movie that Brooks is nothing but a crook who only has the trappings of success through cheating and dishonest dealing. Realising this doesn't so much cause Max disillusionment, however, as much as it simply helps him realise that ultimately Brooks is just a "loser" and he doesn't need to measure himself against him.
  • The Cameo:
    • An uncredited Jeffrey Wright is the fake FBI Agent who gives the group their "dossiers" at the start of the game night.
    • Michael C. Hall as The Bulgarian.
    • Chelsea Peretti plays the head of the acting agency that stages the roleplay games.
  • Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality: The players are specifically told by Brooks that they're not going to know what's real and what's fake in the mystery game. Right after telling them that, Brooks gets kidnapped right under their eyes, and they consider that kidnapping as part of the game.
  • Car Hood Sliding: Gary pulls this off with his police car in the climax, albeit somewhat sloppily. His String Theory display in the credits includes a computer playing a compilation of footage he recorded of himself practicing the slide, with each attempt resulting in failure (from him either overshooting or undershooting).
  • Celebrity Paradox: The Marvel Cinematic Universe exists in this film's world, since The Incredible Hulk (2008) is mentioned, along with the two actors who have played Bruce Banner/Hulk in the universe (Mark Ruffalo and Edward Norton). Rachel McAdams plays Christine Palmer, Doctor Strange's Love Interest in the MCU.
  • Chekhov's Gag:
    • At the first game night, Ryan seems oddly obsessed with a random internet rumor that the wealthy elite hire poor people to engage in Fight Clubbing so they can bet on the outcome. When they go to steal a valuable item from a mansion, they end up seeing an underground fighting party, and Ryan is elated at being proven right.
    • Max mentions wanting to "get the drop" on the Bulgarian through the top exit in the plane, but his entrance is uncoordinated and sloppy, so he gets seen. Annie later drops a fire extinguisher on the Bulgarian's head to knock him out and says, "Now that's how you get the drop on someone."
    • Brooks's story about young Max's autoerotic misadventure with a bungee cord pays off when Max uses such a cord to tie the Bulgarian up on the plane, much to Brooks's amusement.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Max and Annie have to communicate through charades in the climax. Like nearly everything else in the movie, it's lampshaded.
    Max: (exasperated) Charades. That's some cute full-circle bullshit.
  • The Chessmaster: If the closing credits are to be believed, Gary knows about more than he lets on, including the Bulgarian.
  • China Takes Over the World: The idea gets name-dropped briefly and Played for Laughs. Around the end of the film, Max comes around to the idea of starting a family with Annie. Among the various attributes they plan to give their child to ensure their dominance over other children, they agree to immediately start teaching them Mandarin, "'cause China's the future."
  • Comically Small Bribe: Ryan tries bribing the "Murder We Wrote" employee to let them hopscotch to the final clue, which starts with him dramatically placing down $10, then upping it with another five and eventually a couple of ones. The employee is unimpressed, expecting at least $100, and Ryan confesses that was all the cash he had on him. Sarah has to toss out a $100 bill, and Ryan is upset when the employee takes it and his $17.
  • Compensating for Something: Annie tries to imply this about Brooks when she and Max drive up to his ridiculously large mansion. Subverted when Max responds that he's actually seen his junk and it's fairly impressive.
    Annie: Oh. Well, I tried.
  • Competition Freak: Both Max and Annie get very competitive, to the point that their mutual competitiveness was part of what attracted them to each other. Brooks is also very competitive, but tends to take a more subtle and underhanded approach to it; as Annie notes at the beginning, everything he did on arriving at the first games night was intended to throw Max off-balance so that he could win. And it's later revealed that the only way Brooks could ever beat Max was by cheating.
  • Concealing Canvas: In one scene that takes place in a Fight Club setting in a basement, there is a safe containing a large amount of money hidden behind a sliding painting.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Gary's fake kidnapping plot happens to target Brooks, a man who's in the smuggling business and does have to worry about being kidnapped, at the same time Brooks arranges to be "kidnapped" as part of a mystery game.
  • Conversational Troping: The characters are well aware of pop culture and often point out the cliches they are engaged with.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Max's idea to crash Brooks's Stingray into the wheels of the Bulgarian's plane in the climax. He even identifies it as such when he pitches it to Annie, and it does work.
    Max: I have one idea. It's so crazy, though, baby, it just might work.
    Annie: You're gonna crash the car into the plane like Liam Neeson in Taken 3?
    Max: He did that in Taken 3, huh?
  • Creative Closing Credits: The film's credits feature a String Theory set up by Gary in his basement, showcasing his meticulously detailed plan to insert himself back into game night.
  • Death as Comedy: The henchman who ends up in a Turbine Blender.
    Annie: YES!...Oh, no, he died!
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: After double crossing the Bulgarian in order to get more money, Brooks ends up torching Max's efforts to negotiate for the group's freedom. Max offers to give the Bulgarian the WitSec list Brooks cheated them out of completely free of charge, but Brooks decides to swallow it whole in a desperate effort to buy more time. The kicker in all of this is the Bulgarian was implied to have been willing to take them up on the offer too.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Max bleeds on Gary's floor, then Sebastian starts licking up the blood, then Max bleeds on Sebastian, then he tries to clean Sebastian up and only succeeds in spreading the blood around more, then Sebastian shakes himself to dry off and sprays blood all over Gary's shrine to Debbie.
  • Do Not Touch the Funnel Cloud: Invoked in principle - the henchman holding Annie at gunpoint is only ten feet closer to the jet turbine when it starts up, which is somehow enough for her to be just fine while he's sucked right in.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Ryan is right about the Faberge egg being on the same floor of the mansion as the Fight Clubbing. He even mutters about finally being right about something.
  • Dynamic Entry: In the plane in the climax, Max decides to surprise the bad guy by dropping in from an overhead hatch. While he does initially get the upper hand, it was far more complicated than needed as the bad guy could hear him moving above them and watched as the hatch opened up. Annie later does one herself to rescue him, saying "That's how you get the drop on someone."
  • Epic Tracking Shot: The group ends up having to steal a valuable Faberge egg from a wealthy home, and spend several minutes tossing it to each other while avoiding security on both the first and second floor, all done to at least resemble one continuous shot (various Whip Pans and other visual effects hide the edits).
  • Establishing Character Moment: Immediately after meeting them, we've got a sense of Max and Annie as Competition Freaks. Max amiably offers to buy shots for everyone in the current bar-quiz competition only to instruct the bartender to send water to his team and vodka to his opponents, meanwhile, we see Annie berating her team for not taking things seriously:
    Annie: This is getting embarrassing, so we need to focus because this isn't a game.
    Teammate: It literally is.
    Annie: Bill, do not test me right now.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Annie initially isn't very fond of Brooks, given that Brooks constantly undermines Max at practically any opportunity, and she blames the stress Max experiences from Brooks for causing them to have conceiving problems. However, when Annie catches on that Brooks is in severe danger and being held for ransom (though the first time was a sham conceived by Gary to include him in their game nights), she is clearly terrified and worried for Brooks' safety, and rather than encouraging Max to leave him for dead, she fully dedicates herself to save him.
    • The same can be said about Annie in regards to Gary. Moments after his introduction, when Max asks why they don't invite him to game nights, Annie says that Gary's ex-wife Debbie was their friend, while Gary was just the "creepy husband that we had to put up with". After Gary gets shot (the first time, through the chest, being part of his plot, and the second time, through the shoulder, being real), Annie is horrified. Alongside Max, she tearfully apologizes to Gary for shunning him, objects when he says he doesn't have any friends and that they don't like spending time with him, and admits to being selfish.
  • Evil Is Cool: Invoked in-universe; Brooks is charming, manipulative and unscrupulous even before we learn he's a crook, lives in a massive mansion, and all of Max's friends seem in awe of him. Ultimately deconstructed, since Brooks hasn't accomplished anything without lying or cheating to get it and deep down knows that his seemingly awesome life is completely hollow, he's ultimately just a total loser, and Max — the 'boring' brother who nevertheless has honestly earned everything he has — is the better man.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: Ryan tries to overcompensate for his Comically Small Bribe to the "Murder We Wrote" employee by sliding each bill slowly across the table. When it gets to the point that he's sliding a dollar bill over a table at a painfully slow speed, Sarah finally bursts out that it doesn't matter how slowly he passes it over — it's the pathetic amount of money that's the problem.
  • Family of Choice: Towards the end, Max and Annie give their friends a chance to walk away from the matter, citing that it's a family affair and there's no reason for them to risk their lives for Max's brother. Their friends retort that they're all family and they're in this together.
  • Fight Clubbing: Ryan insists, to ridicule from his friends, that this is a secret pastime of the ultra-wealthy. It turns out that he's absolutely correct.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Sarah to the rest of the group. She was just Ryan's date (and he wasn't really interested and she lost interest the more time she spent with him), but when given a chance to leave, she decides to stay. And three months later she is still part of their game group.
  • Fish out of Water: On a meta level, the crux of the movie's humour revolves around a group of middle-class suburban types bumbling into a gritty crime thriller.
  • Foreshadowing: When confronted with the home intruders, Brooks puts up a surprisingly good fight for a man who claims to be a white collar financier. It's a hint that he's actually less "financier" and more "criminal".
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Gary was apparently this to the game group, as they quickly found a reason to drop him after his wife left him.
  • Furniture Blockade: Ryan traps Kevin and Michelle in a room in Brooks's mansion by pushing a large table in front of the door, "just to be a dick".
  • Gag Nose: "Not Denzel" is shown to have an absolutely giant nose.
  • Gambit Pileup: Gary's plot to get back into the games night crashes into Brooks's plan to host a murder-mystery alternate-reality game, and the Bulgarian's plan to acquire the witness protection list utterly demolishes both of them.
  • Game Night Fight: Naturally, a constant occurrence as the competitive Max and Annie take their game nights very, very seriously. It gets very dramatic quickly when Max's brother Brooks appears to get kidnapped for real during their followup game night, and a lot of conflict ensues as they try to get him back.
    • Subverted between Max and Annie, however; while they frequently get aggressively competitive towards others, their mutual desire to win never seems to cause any bad feeling or create a wedge between the two of them, and in fact appears to be a key driving force of their attraction to each other. While it may help that they're usually on the same team, even the few times we see them directly competing (such as the night they meet, when they are on opposing pub quiz teams) results in them either experiencing intense attraction to each other (the result of the former, for example, is the two of them passionately making out), or at least clearly still having fun. The one time we see them have anything close to an argument with each other is about something completely unrelated to games.
  • Genius Ditz:
    • Ryan is an absolute moron but apparently is a Harvard graduate.
    • Annie is an intelligent woman who is great at game night and makes substantial contributions to the group's success throughout the evening, but she does have moments where she makes some ditzy mistakes and misconceptions, such as when Brooks says they can't go to the cops because the Bulgarian has got "a ton of moles" and she questions back, "On his face?!", or when she orders a vodka tonic when she's supposed to be ordering a drink with complicated ingredients.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Gary is averse to foul language, as shown at one point when Max tells him to "stop fucking with us", and he replies that he's "not fudging with you".
  • Happily Married:
    • Max and Annie are clearly head-over-heels in love and supportive of each other throughout the movie. There is a wobbly moment when Max reveals that he has a slight case of cold feet over having a child, but it never becomes an issue that strains their marriage beyond some mildly wounded feelings and sarcastic comments, and they ultimately work it out.
    • For that matter, while Kevin and Michelle have more tension throughout the film ultimately they're this as well. Kevin acknowledges that while he is kind of jealous of Michelle's fling, he also played away during their brief separation and ultimately just wants her to be honest with him. Tellingly, when he discovers that the guy she had a fling with wasn't Denzel Washington, he is more amused by her mistake than anything else.
  • Has a Type: Ryan apparently has such a specific type that Annie mistakes one girl for a different one from the previous week.
  • Here We Go Again!: The movie ends with the same group doing a game night, a revelation that Brooks hasn't quite reformed from his dirty dealing... and a reveal of more masked thugs in a van outside getting their guns ready.
  • Highly Visible Password: The password field on Gary's computer does not mask the characters of the password the way nearly any such password field actually would in real life, to make it easier for the audience to see that Gary used the name of his ex-wife as the password.
  • Hollywood Board Games: Annie and Max prefer to communicate by means of Pictionary games, as playing Board Games is a pastime they both enjoy and find relaxing. Sometimes, it's for important matters — Max proposes to her by drawing a ring and Annie reveals to him that she's pregnant by drawing a "bun in the oven". Other times, it's more casual things, such as Gary's In-Universe Tear Jerker reaction to The Green Mile.
  • Hypocritical Humor: After Brooks swallows the WITSEC list and gets captured by the Bulgarian, the Bulgarian is disgusted at the idea of sifting through Brooks's feces for the list and then says, "Now hold still while I cut your stomach open."
  • I Have a Family: Annie tries to get out of being shot by claiming she has children.
    Henchman: Not with that ass, you don't.
    Annie: ...oh. Well... thank you?
  • I Told You So: When Brooks suggests they play a drinking game before the murder mystery game starts, Max gets a bit stand-offish and refuses to play, pointing out that they never play drinking games. Over the course of the game, Michelle inadvertently reveals a possible infidelity she committed, prompting an argument with Kevin. Max takes a certain amount of satisfaction in pointing out that this is why they don't play drinking games.
  • Identical Stranger: Turns out that the celebrity Michelle slept with was actually a man who looks like Denzel Washington.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Characters state several times that Brooks is more handsome than Max.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Ryan tends to say blunt and potentially hurtful things in a very innocent way, implicitly because he is too stupid to realize he is causing offense. He makes several insensitive comments about how Sarah is not his type, not realizing that she was attracted to him and thought they were on an actual date. He also bluntly tells her that she is lucky that he brought her to Brooks's game night instead of one of Max and Annie's in front of them, and when Annie naturally takes a certain amount of offense at this innocently adds that he is only saying it because Brooks's night is more fun.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Max and Annie excluding Gary from the games night doesn't exactly reflect well on them, but at the same time it's not hard to see why they might find socialising with him a bit of a burden.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Brooks is a smug, overbearing jerk who tends to belittle and humiliate Max and turns out to be up to his neck in dodgy dealings, but he does genuinely love his brother and is willing to go to great lengths to protect him. It's even eventually revealed that he'd rigged his game in the first place to let Max win his expensive car. Downplayed with Annie, however. While she's never outright mean or rude to anyone, she's insanely competitive and intense during games and can be rather derisive about people she doesn't care for behind their backs, (though that only extends towards Brooks and Gary). However, Annie is ultimately a loving and supportive wife to Max and an excellent and protective friend. At the end of the movie, she even befriends Gary and Brooks.
  • Juggling Loaded Guns: Max and Annie assume that Brooks's gun is All Part of the Show and deliberately mishandle it for several scenes, believing that it's harmless. Annie even sticks the barrel in her mouth while posing for a photo. Ultimately, they give it more respect when Max is accidentally shot by the gun.
  • Jump Scare:
    • Ryan's first date Madison reaching through Max and Annie's window plays out this way, even receiving a horror-style setup of the two slowly approaching the window as they hear strange noises coming from behind.
    • Max gets startled by Brooks walking in his direction with a large knife pointing at him (complete with Scare Chord), which he says he's simply using to cut butter.
      Max: Really aggressive way to carry a knife.
    • Ryan and Sarah get spooked by the "Murder We Wrote" employee, who's asleep when they find her, suddenly awakening in her chair with a scream, which sets off a Reactive Continuous Scream.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Brooks ends up with three years of house arrest when all is said and done, which is an awfully light price to pay for his illegal activities, especially after he reveals that he sold the WitSec list on the black market for $3 million. And then tipped the witnesses off, so they wouldn't be in any danger... for $20,000 each.
    • Gary set up a majority of the night's events, which included beating up Brooks, assaulting a real actor, emotionally tormenting the others, especially Max and Annie, and Max getting shot. At the end, he's part of the group again, with no ill will towards anything they were put through. In fairness, though, he did get shot for real and severely injured shortly after his actions were revealed. Not only that, but all of his marital souvenirs ended up being covered in blood. Maybe they figured that was punishment enough.
    • Brooks's original kidnappers are this, since they had a deal to have some minor crimes overlooked if they helped out, and they are let go once it's done (although they do get bruised quite a bit).
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!:
    • After Brooks is taken (with the others still believing nothing has gone wrong), each couple takes a different strategy to find Brooks and win the car:
      • Kevin and Michelle are the first to figure out the game's first riddle, so they decide to keep playing the game to find Brooks.
      • Ryan and Sarah find Brooks's wallet, which gives Sarah the idea to call the credit card company and find out the company running the game so they can bribe someone there to give them the final clue.
      • Max and Annie decide to bypass the game entirely and just track Brooks's phone to find him instead.
    • They split up again in Anderton's house to look for the egg, although Ryan stays right where he is because he wants to watch the fight club. He ends up finding the egg.
  • Licked by the Dog: Gary constantly behaves in a creepy manner, but one of his first scenes also shows his pet dog licking his face, and he does turn out to be more of a Jerkass Woobie.
  • MacGuffin: The plot is triggered by Max's brother Brooks screwing a notorious crime lord known only as The Bulgarian out of a very expensive Faberge egg. When Brooks is kidnapped, Max sets out to recover the egg in exchange for his brother's life. The egg itself is actually a worthless fake. The real MacGuffin is hidden inside: a list of names and addresses of people in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Going further, the MacGuffin was actually an accident, since Gary set up the kidnapping with an extreme but mostly controlled situation for a completely different purpose, Brooks assumed the egg was the reason and their theft of the egg is what ended up inciting The Bulgarian to actually get involved.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Downplayed.
    • When Max is shot in the arm by a dropped gun, he reacts with a degree of shock and surprise but not exactly the extreme pain you would expect. He shows far more pain when Annie tries removing the bullet, which turned out to be pointless because there was an exit wound and thus no bullet to remove. She still ends up tapping on his exposed bone and their reaction is more curiosity than anything else, although both had trouble with keeping their constitution.
    • In the climax, Max gets a knife thrown in his arm, making him drop his gun, and he comments more in anger that it landed right in his already existing bullet hole, and he proceeds to still have an extended scuffle with little discomfort.
  • Meet Cute:
    • The movie opens with Max and Annie meeting at a bar trivia contest, the leaders of their respective teams, and answering the same question at the same time. It even gives a close-up of their faces as they meet eyes and get flustered. A quick montage shows them playing other games and eventually Max proposing to Annie via a charades game, with the title appearing at their wedding (with DanceDance Revolution behind them). It is bookended with Annie doing a Pictionary game outlining "bun in the oven" as her way of telling Max she's pregnant. It even gives a similar close-up of their faces as they smile at each other.
    • The post-credits scene also involves Kevin, the guy Michelle mistook for Denzel Washington, and Gary's ex-wife Debbie having one of these.
  • Mistaken Nationality: Ryan seems to have serious difficulty getting his head around the fact that Sarah is Irish, not British. This is entirely a case of Ryan being an idiot rather than Sarah's nationality actually being ambiguous - she clarifies that she is Irish, speaks with an Irish accent (actress Sharon Horgan's own) and we even see her passport at the end.
  • Mood Whiplash: In-universe; after being confronted by a Mook only to then see him sent him flying through a jet plane's turbine engine, Annie initially reacts with gleeful triumph only to suddenly remember that she's just witnessed a man's actual horrible death and that this isn't an appropriate reaction.
    "Oh, no! He died!"
  • No Social Skills: Gary has a very stoic, unblinking and unemotive way of acting that unsettles pretty much everyone.
  • Off the Rails: Early in the actual playing of the game, only Kevin and Michelle try playing the game as it was intended. Max and Annie try following Brooks by the GPS in his phone, while Ryan and Sarah track down the gaming company that put it together to bribe them to reveal the final solution. It is safe to say that the game proceeds to go far, FAR more off the rails than anyone expected.
  • One Crazy Night: The characters' game night goes awry when their murder mystery theme suddenly turns very real and they have to run to solve it.
  • The Oner: The characters being chased by security around the mansion with the Faberge egg, which they throw between each other like a football, is filmed and cut to appear as one continuous shot (the actual edits are hidden by Whip Pans and other visual effects).
  • One Thing Led to Another: Michelle describes the night that ended with her hooking up with who she thought was Denzel Washington this way to Kevin.
    "He was really nice. He made some joke about how premium gas is probably the same as regular. I took a chance, and I asked him if he wanted to get drinks. He said yes. We both got a little tipsy. I offered to pay for drinks, and he let me, which I thought was pretty cool. We danced for hours. Eventually, we ended up back at his place, and one thing led to another."
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": While trying to hack Gary's computer, Max barely needs to pause for thought before guessing that his password is the name of his ex-wife, not least because he's in a room adorned with souvenirs from their wedding.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Gary is like this, with a personality to match, which is a major reason why the group stopped inviting him to game night.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure:
    • Nobody but Max remembers that Edward Norton played Bruce Banner/Hulk until he reminds them.
    • Brooks catches Max's Tony Stark reference but invokes this trope and pretends to have no idea who Jarvis is when Max continues the gag, so he can dismiss him as a nerd.
  • Pull the Thread: Gary's efforts to do this and disprove Max and Annie's (admittedly rather feeble) lies about not continuing to host their games nights border on investigation and interrogation (fittingly, since he's a cop). This even leads to him writing Frito-Lay to confirm that they don't do three-for-one discount deals.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The Bulgarian doesn't kill anyone he doesn't need to. He neutralizes Gary (an armed police officer) via a shoulder shot and a knockout, and is perfectly willing to let everyone except Brooks go once he gets the WitSec list, since none of them were trying to screw him over. This makes it all the funnier when he decides that he would rather cut Brooks open inside a small jet during takeoff and dig through his guts rather than have to dissect his poop.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Played for Laughs when an unfortunate henchman who was threatening Annie gets sucked into a jet turbine. She cheers at first, but then immediately backpedals with very unconvincing grief when she remembers she's not supposed to cheer people's deaths.
  • Reactive Continuous Scream: A brief one occurs between Ryan, Sarah and the "Murder We Wrote" employee after the employee suddenly wakes up in her chair, startling them.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Annie ends up in possession of Brooks's ankle gun, a snubnose revolver. She thinks it's a fake gun that's All Part of the Show, and spends half the film playing with it like a toy, even putting the barrel in her mouth for a selfie. When she hands it off to Max, he doesn't even bother holding it remotely properly, instead palming it sideways. When Brooks tells her it's a real gun, she does a test fire, and it goes off and shatters a light. She then immediately drops it, leading to it shooting Max in the arm once it hits the floor.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: Overlaps with Guns Do Not Work That Way. Annie drops Brooks' revolver after accidentally firing it, at which point it shoots Max in the arm when it hits the floor. This occurs despite the hammer sitting uncocked on an empty cartridge because Annie had just fired it, meaning it wouldn't be able to fire again without the trigger being pulled or the hammer being cocked back first.
  • Right-Wing Militia Fanatic: Annie finds instructions on how to remove a bullet on an alt-right militia website, and mentions having to look past "the racist stuff" in order to follow the steps.
  • Running Gag: Early on, Kevin is surprised that Brooks's glass table doesn't break when he is thrown onto it. Later, when Ryan tackles a man onto another glass table that doesn't break, he comments, "Glass tables are acting weird tonight!"
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: The Bulgarian, who is said to have a hand in everything from heroin trafficking to sex slavery. Subverted; he's played by the very American Michael C. Hall with no accent, Slavic or otherwise.
  • Saying Too Much: During the "Never Have I Ever" drinking game, Michelle absently takes a sip of her drink when Ryan suggests "sleeping with a celebrity" as a category. Everyone notices her action because she's been in a relationship with Kevin since they were teenagers and they had supposedly never slept with anyone but each other.
  • Serious Business: Games, for pretty much everyone involved.
    • Our Establishing Character Moment for both Max and Annie involves them getting hyper-competitive at a quiz night and attracted to each other by this, before a montage developing their relationship through mutual intensity with gaming.
    • Gary is so determined to find a way back into the game nights he's been dropped from after his divorce from Debbie that he hijacks Brook's murder mystery to make it seem like a real kidnapping takes place, just to prove that he's cool enough to be in the games.
  • Skewed Priorities: At one point, when Brooks admits that he used to cheat against Max during their childhood games, Annie furiously starts berating him. Keep in mind that they're all being held at gunpoint at the time.
  • Shout-Out: There are tons of them.
    • As the film revolves around games, many of them trivia-based, there are lots of references made during game-playing scenes.
    • The company that sets up Brooks's murder mystery is called "Murder We Wrote".
    • Max complains that Annie has the advantage in paper football since she has smaller hands to form goalposts, to which Annie says, "Well, I guess you should've married Uma Thurman."
    • Dr. Chin mentions Cain and Abel and the Baldwins as examples of how serious Sibling Rivalry can be.
    • When Max and Annie's friends start entering their house through their windows, misinterpreting Max's request to "sneak in", Annie remarks, "It's like Night of the Living Dead in here."
    • In gushing about Brooks, Ryan calls him "the Mark Wahlberg to Max's Donnie". Annie tries to flip it into a compliment by saying that Donnie was great in The Sixth Sense, although it's questioned if he was actually in the film (he was).
    • Upon arriving at Brooks's huge mansion, Max compares him to Tony Stark and asks if they should give their drink orders to JARVIS.
    • After kicking the (legitimately) downed Agent Henderson and finding that he's still not getting up, Ryan is impressed and calls him "a regular Daniel Day-Lewis".
    • Michelle inadvertently reveals to Kevin that she once slept with a celebrity, and a majority of their interactions throughout the film are marked by Kevin not being able to move past that, at one point saying that he's "been living in the Matrix." She ultimately tells him that the celebrity was Denzel Washington, to which Kevin reacts in disbelief and promptly finds out that it was merely a man who looked like him. Kevin then starts doing a Denzel impression which ends with him saying, "The real Denzel ain't got SHIT on me!"
      • After Ryan locks Kevin and Michelle in a room in Brooks's mansion, Kevin plans to burn down the door with matches. When Michelle points out the stupidity of lighting a fire in a windowless room that they're trapped in, Kevin, still frustrated from the above reveal, snarks that the celebrity must've been Bill Nye the Science Guy for her to know so much about fire.
      • While trying to break out through the ceiling, Kevin tries to guess who the celebrity was. Upon Michelle saying that he was over 40 and American, he lands on Tommy Lee Jones ("ew, no") and Denzel Washington ("it wasn't, unfortunately"). Shortly after, he puts on a Denzel impression and references a line from The Hurricane: "Hate put us in here, but love's gonna bust us out."
    • Annie does an over-the-top stick-up at a bar while quoting Honey Bunny's line from Pulp Fiction, which Max identifies by name.
    • When Brooks tries explaining to Max and Annie that he's not who he's claimed to be and they're in actual danger, him bringing up the Bulgarian's egg prompts Max to remark, "'The Bulgarian's egg'? Wasn't that the third Harry Potter book?"
    • When Annie complains that her phone's screen keeps turning off while she's trying to read the instructions to remove Max's bullet, he advises that she go into her settings and change the timing to prevent her phone from entering sleep mode. This level of detail just annoys Annie, and she replies, "What are you, Steve Jobs?"
    • Ryan incorrectly refers to Marlon Freeman, the alias of Donald Anderton, as Morgan Freeman and Marlon Wayans.
    • Kevin calls the fight club at the mansion "some Django Unchained bullshit" and "Eyes Wide Fight Club".
    • Max describes his reluctance to settle down with Annie using Pac-Man as a metaphor. He says that when they used to play the game together, they stayed alive by eating the pellets and avoiding the fruit (since "that's how they [the ghosts] get you"), but neither of them ever made it on the leaderboard. Annie disappointedly deduces that Max believes that them starting a family will permanently bar him from "the leaderboard of life", and notes that Brooks is Always Someone Better to him because he's always "gone for the fruit", which is why "the ghosts" (the criminals after Brooks) are going to "eat" (kill) him. Once they start getting into the dangerous chases of the climax, Annie sarcastically asks if that's the "fruit" of their relationship Max had in mind. Come the end of the film, his "fruit" becomes starting a family. During the first of these scenes, Annie also notes that she would crush Max in Galaga.
    • In confessing to Max that he cheated his way to success, Brooks admits that he had Max sit in a specific spot while they played Battleship as kids so he could see his ships. He then says, "I cheated at the Game of Life, and at the game of life."
    • When racing Brooks's Stingray to the Bulgarian's plane in the climax, Max says that he has an idea that might be Crazy Enough to Work. Annie immediately responds that he's going to crash the car into the plane "like Liam Neeson in Taken 3", and that's exactly what he does. Annie remarks shortly after that Max is "not Liam Neeson"; it genuinely hurts his feelings, and she apologizes.
    • Gary's String Theory includes VHS cassettes of Philadelphia, Braveheart and The Green Mile, which he watched in preparation for his own death scene. Gary also tries tries to convey The Green Mile in a Pictionary game where he just draws his crying face, feeling that this reaction would be enough to be understood.
    • See Take That! below.
  • Soft Glass: Subverted. Several people get bodyslammed onto glass tables, all of which prove too sturdy to break.
  • Stalker Shrine: Gary has a pretty intense bookcase full of mementos to his wife, Debbie, and their short marriage.
  • The Stinger: This film has a brief scene at the very end of the credits involving another appearance of "Not Denzel" and the first on-screen appearance of Debbie, Gary's ex-wife, as they have a Meet Cute at the same gas station where "Not Denzel" met Michelle.
  • String Theory: The Creative Closing Credits feature Gary's basement, which details his plan to get back into game night.
  • Successful Sibling Syndrome: Much of Max's stress stems from being second fiddle to his older brother Brooks. Max has a decent successful life with a beautiful loving wife, but it's peanuts compared to Brooks's jet-setting life as a successful venture capitalist, that nets him enough money to buy (or give away) Max's dream car on a whim. Brooks even beats him every time they play a board, card or party game. Subverted; Max learns during the adventure that all of Brooks's gains are ill-gotten and criminal - the secret of his success is to cheat like hell. Brooks actually looks up to Max because even though his life is not as flashy compared to his, he came by it honestly.
  • Symbolic Glass House: Brooks' rented house has enormous windows, and he's lying about how he made his money; he's actually a criminal embroiled with the mafia, and he gets violently kidnapped.
  • Take That!: The first riddle of the murder mystery is "With shiny fangs, my bloodless bite will bring together what's mostly white." Kevin's first guess? Donald Trump. It's actually a stapler (the "bloodless bite" being the stapling, and "what's mostly white" being papers).
  • Turbine Blender: A mook holds Annie at gunpoint right next to a private jet plane. The turbine turns on and the mook gets sucked into it, complete with some CGI gore out the other end.
  • Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Sarah was genuinely attracted to Ryan and is clearly hurt and disappointed when he casually reveals that she's not really his type and that he only invited her around to have someone competent to be his partner in the game. However, over the course of the evening she gradually becomes much more exasperated with his stupidity while he in turn becomes much more intrigued by her, until by the end he's apparently nursing a torch for her while she's completely over him. Her still coming to the group's game nights three months later, might mean they've managed to patch up their differences.
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out!: Max resolves that he and Annie have to take the bullet out after she shoots him. She scrapes it out.
  • What You Are in the Dark: When the group finally figure out that the game is for real and they have to steal a MacGuffin to trade for Brooks's life, Max and Annie tell the others that it's a family obligation and invite them to leave. Kevin, Michelle and Ryan refuse, saying that the reason they have game night is because they love Max and Annie like family. It's then noted that Sarah is a newcomer and has no actual ties to them, but she too insists on staying because if she goes home and hears the worst has happened the next morning, she wouldn't forgive herself.
    Annie: You guys should go home, but you [Max] and I are doing this.
    Kevin: Okay, what happens if you guys don't make it out?
    Michelle: We don't come to game night because we're dying to play charades and shit. We come because we love you guys.
    Kevin: Honestly, this is the best part of our week.
    Ryan: Mine, too. And I have a lot of options on the weekend.
  • Wimp Fight: Played with, as the initial kidnapping of Brooks plays out as a very desperate and sloppy scramble and, surprisingly, Brooks puts up a reasonable fight against two attackers. This actually makes some sense as it shows Brooks is prepared for dangerous situations and the kidnappers were not high-end professionals, but petty crooks Gary recruited.