gamenightJason Bateman. He’s come a long way since Teen Wolf Too. Well, in a sense he’s come a long way. He’s an older man now, proof if ever we needed it that the laws of entropy and decay apply to Jason Bateman as much as they apply to mere mortal non-Jason-Batemans such as ourselves. He’s earned something of a reputation, in my mind anyway, of being a one trick pony, which is probably deserved. But you know what? I like him. I’ve liked him in everything I’ve seen him in so I went into Game Night pretty sure I was going to like what I saw. I did.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play Max and Annie, a well-matched competitive couple who host regular game nights for their friends where they, em, play board games. Look, just go with it, okay? Some people probably do this in 2018. Not anyone I know, right enough, but these people surely exist. Max’s estranged brother, Brooks, because if people play board games with friends then it’s absolutely certain that people are sometimes named after multiple small rivers, turns up to one. Brooks is really successful, much to Max’s chagrin, and seems to enjoy embarrassing his sibling at every opportunity. He invites everyone round to his gaff the next week where he, instead, will host Game Night. Outrageous! Well, Max and Annie think so, and because they’re so competitive and stuff, decide that they MUST win Brooks’ Game Night.

But Brooks has something up his sleeve. This isn’t going to be another night of Charades, Jenga, and Scrabble (thank God). Instead, it’s going to be a murder mystery style affair where one of the party is going to be kidnapped and then everyone else must work to find the clues and the hostage before the end of the night. So when two masked men with guns burst into the house and drag Brooks away in a van, everyone is amusingly nonplussed. Max even graciously tells the goons to drive safely. It’s just a game, after all. Or is it? And doesn’t this sound an awful lot like The Game?

For the next while, the fun of the movie comes from these suburban couples becoming increasingly and unwittingly immersed in a seedy underworld of kidnap and black market dealings that may or may not be fictitious. And it is fun. Bateman and McAdams have a great chemistry together and bounce off each other well, and the supporting cast are all engaging. Writer Mark Perez has a great ear for dialogue, directors John Francis Daly and Jonathon Goldstein keep things moving at a brisk pace for the most part, probably because there’s two of them. There’s even a neat little device where most of the establishing shots are animated models of towns and roads, like toys and games.

Where it fails is in the continuity of the ideas and the bluffs and the duplicity and confusion of who knows what and when. With each new twist and turn, the plot makes less and less sense and by the end, nothing of what you’ve seen adds up to anything remotely in the vicinity of coherent and plausible activity.

It’s almost forgivable, though, because it’s great fun and it’s laugh out loud funny in lots of places, with humor that’s mined mostly from people reacting calmly to outrageously dangerous situations. Jason Bateman has seldom been so Jason Bateman. He’s the same character as he was in the Horrible Boss movies. They may even have the same name. I’d have to look it up.

It’s not going to win any awards. Beyond the first 24 hours after viewing, all memories of it will end up filed away in a folder in the brain marked, Things That Happened in Jason Bateman Movies, which will no doubt come back to haunt me at a Trivia Night in the not too distant future. At some point, I’ll question if I’ve ever seen it. But for now, I did, and I’m pretty happy about that.

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