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Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams comedy 'Game Night' is more fun than it deserves to be

Rachel McAdams, left, and Jason Bateman in a scene from "Game Night." (Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)
Published Feb. 21, 2018

Good movie comedies are in short supply these days, making Game Night more fun than it deserves to be.

There are laughs, a couple from the belly, and none of the lazy scatological, narcotic or pubic humor Seth Rogen's crowd prefers. The cast is appealing when it isn't one-note or wasted, the writing and direction by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein equally all over the place.

Game Night is one of those comedy tweeners in which the jokes that click are milked too long and jokes that don't will take too long to confirm that. Appropriately for the premise, it'll likely be more enjoyable at home with friends. Their home, their cable bill.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play Max and Annie, a match made at Trivia Death Match Night and consummated with a Dance Dance Revolution wedding reception. These parlor game Jedis have hosted a game night for years with two other couples who don't mind losing.

It used to be three couples but Game Night's finest comedy creation, Max and Annie's creepy neighbor Officer Gary (Jesse Plemons), divorced his wife. Gary is a police officer never out of uniform or bloodhound instinct, clinging to hope that he'll be invited back to game night.

Daley and Goldstein's screenplay must arrange a lot of pieces like Gary before the real game's afoot. Max and Annie have an infertility issue, possibly because his brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler, looser than usual) is coming to visit. Max always felt inferior to his flashy brother and Brooks enjoys that. It's his idea to take over game night and kick it up a notch.

Brooks' idea of a kidnapping mystery game with actors and clues gets interrupted by the real thing, setting off a frantic, violent search for the victim who has something someone else wants for reasons nobody knows. Game Night goes origami with the plot, folding into itself so often that a rule book would be helpful. Too often characters learn something new they should already know. At times Daley and Goldstein directly refer to the confusion or logic leaps, smoothing over their plot holes.

There are amusements found in a one-take Fabergé egg game of hot potato, Bateman's passive-aggression and McAdams going Pulp Fiction with a pistol she thinks is a toy. Among Max and Annie's guests, Billy Magnussen's dim himbo is a decent running gag; Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury's infidelity mystery is a running limp to a funny finish line. Like much of Game Night.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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