New to On Demand: Game Night

Game Night © 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

New to On Demand: Game Night By Stephen Whitty

OK, what’s the answer to “Harmless comedy with two likable stars”? Two words, nine letters?

I think we have the solution right here.

Game Night is a slick farce that takes a ridiculous situation and works it pretty painlessly, thanks to Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams. You won’t leave the theater holding your sides from laughter, but you won’t walk out holding your head, either.

Bateman and McAdams play Max and Annie, young marrieds whose idea of a wild Friday is a night at home with two other couples, chasing after that pink Trivial Pursuit wedge. They’re all pretty competitive, although they pale next to Max’s brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler).

Brooks, you see, is all about taking things to the next level. So the night he joins in, he throws away the gang’s Scrabble board and dares them to join him in a role-playing murder-mystery game.

Except then real criminals join the fun. And soon it’s impossible to tell who’s playing a role and who’d better start running for their lives.

How much you enjoy a game usually depends on who you play it with. Luckily, directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have made some smart choices here. Bateman could play the slightly exasperated nice guy in his sleep by now — but he doesn’t, instead adding an off-kilter bounce. And there are few big-screen smiles warmer than that of the amiable McAdams. Chandler is a nice add, too, as the brash, boastful Brooks.

It’s good they’ve all been dealt in, too, and anted up their charisma, because the rules of this game — and the plot of the film — don’t always make sense. It’s clear that the filmmakers, who also teamed with Bateman on the Horrible Bosses films, like edgy. But all the bloody shootouts and crazy car chases aren’t just overstuffed with double-crosses; they distract from the real object of the film.

You know, the jokes.

Still, the cast livens up the dull moments, and although there could be more gags, the ones that do show up — including a story about a celebrity hook-up — pay off wonderfully. There’s also a surprise guest star or two, and some cute nostalgic details worked in — the little pieces from Parcheesi, the terrier from Monopoly.

For the truly demanding, the film can feel a little middle-of-the-road. It won’t challenge you, like chess or bridge (or embarrass you, like Cards Against Humanity). It’s just a friendly, occasionally funny way to pass two hours.

But if you’re planning a date night, that may make Game Night, a safe bet.

Game Night is available On Demand beginning May 22. Check your cable system for availability.