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Rachel McAdams as Annie and Jason Bateman as Max in the movie comedy Game Night.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/Warner Bros.

3 out of 4 stars

Game Night
Written by
Mark Perez
Directed by
John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams

You know those obnoxious people who gleefully beat you at Scrabble with their improbable vocabulary of two-letter words? Or that combative couple who play Trivial Pursuit as though the loser was going to be eaten for dinner? Well, Max and Annie are not them: This winsome pair win every round of charades and every evening of Risk with their ample charm intact because their Game Night is, of course, a movie. Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman play a happily competitive couple in this retro outing in which their weekly entertainment with a gang of cheerful friends gets interrupted by a real kidnapping.

The background story is weak and wavering – Max and Annie either can't get pregnant or can't decide if they want children – but the actual action is highly amusing as Max's wealthy brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) shows up and proposes a murder mystery evening. The gang lap it up: McAdams and Bateman are ably supported by Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury, doing a running gag about her truth-or-dare revelation of infidelity, and by Billy Magnussen and Sharon Horgan, playing a pleasant dolt and the much smarter colleague who he has invited over as a ringer. Meanwhile, Jesse Plemons contributes a fabulous piece of deadpan as the creepy neighbour Gary, a divorced cop who wants to be included in the fun.

The entertainment is soon interrupted by something that looks like a real crime and if we catch on long before Max and Annie, screenwriter Mark Perez also has a few more surprising twists and turns up his sleeve.

Story continues below advertisement

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein co-direct with a firm hand on the action, including an impressive scene where the friends toss around a million-dollar Fabergé egg like a football while being pursued by various thugs. Meanwhile, Bateman and, in particular, the energetic McAdams, reveal a strong talent for traditional screwball with a fine moment when she attempts to remove a bullet from his arm using a nice chardonnay as disinfectant.

There is the occasional flash of the macabre, including a scene where Max bleeds all over a white dog, and one thug does get sucked through a jet engine, but the overall results are unusually wholesome – and satisfyingly funny. Game Night is the kind of harmless comedy you rarely see these days, as happily entertaining as a good game of Pictionary.

Game Night opens Feb. 23

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