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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

McAdams, Bateman bring ‘Game Night’ to life

I caught the movie "Game Night" on its opening weekend before a full house. And it's been a long time since I felt compelled to laugh along with everyone else at a comedy. Following is the review of "Game Night" that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Jason Bateman was a teen star who only as an adult, most notably on the series “Arrested Development,” showed a unique talent for wry comedy stylings. I remember first seeing Rachel McAdams as the nasty leader of a high school clique in “Mean Girls” and then opposite Ryan Gosling in the story of thwarted love “The Notebook.” Nothing in those first few films indicated that she could become the next Lucille Ball.

Yet “Game Night,” a comedy by the directing team John Frances Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, pairs Bateman and McAdams in an ongoing series of situations that highlight their respective talents for making audiences laugh.

Those situations involve a group of longtime friends, all of whom get together regularly to play games. Charades, for example. Or Pictionary. Or Jenga. Anything, actually, that allows one of the participants to win.

In fact, that was how the characters that Bateman and McAdams portray – Max and Annie – first met. During a trivia contest, they each guess the correct Teletubbie character and it’s love, and lust, at first sight.

Some time later they are happily married, save for the fact that Annie can’t get pregnant, presumably because Max is feeling the kind of stress that inhibits his, um, productive powers. Max is also in a perpetual state of feeling inferior to his older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who is always just a bit better at … well, everything, than his baby bro.

So when Brooks shows up for Game Night, sporting a new car and bragging about his career success, Max is again cast as the perpetual loser. And that feeling persists when Brooks invites the whole group to his house the next week for a Game Night they will never forget.

Which is where “Game Night” the movie takes off. Because, as it turns out, Brooks is a poser. While his intent is to fake a kidnapping, two strangers show up suddenly to kidnap him. And only slowly do Max, Annie and their friends realize that the game has now become real, and they have to use their skills to save Brooks before he gets murdered.

The screenplay Daley and Goldstein follow has a couple of twists that will keep you guessing, including one that involves Max and Annie’s creepy neighbor – a dog-loving divorcee who sorely wants to be part of their game-night crowd. As the neighbor, Jesse Plemons – a talented performer – is a stark contrast to everyone else, which only emphasizes how funny the rest of the cast is.

That includes Kyle Bunbury and Lamorne Morris as a squabbling husband and wife, and Billy Magnussen, who was so good the last year’s “Ingrid Goes West.” Here he plays the perpetually thick, good-looking guy whose latest date quote-unquote is a smart British woman played by Sharon Horgan.

But most of all, “Game Night” belongs to Bateman and McAdams. No one can chew on a squeaky toy more humorously than he can, and no one is better at combining comic timing and sex appeal than she.

Together, they make “Game Night” far better than it has any right to be.