(director: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein; screenwriter: Mark Perez; cinematographer: Barry Peterson; editors: David Egan, Jamie Gross, Gregory Plotkin; music: Cliff Martinez; cast: Jason Bateman (Max), Rachel McAdams (Annie), Chandler (Brooks), Jesse Plemons (Gary), Billy Magnussen (Ryan), Sharon Horgan (Sarah), Lamorne Morris (Kevin), Kylie Bunbury (Michelle), Michael C. Hall (The Bulgarian), Danny Huston (Donald Anderton), Chelsea Peretti (Glenda); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jason Bateman, John Davis, John Fox; New Line Cinema; 2018)

“A tone-friendly dark comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (“Vacation”) helm a tone-friendly dark comedy about suburban couples having weekly game nights at home with chosen friends. It’s smartly written by Mark Perez as a saucy farce, with funny gags and a neat plot twist.The weekly game night (for instance: charades, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble or Monopoly) hosted by the happily married but childless Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), who met at a bar on trivia night, gets more competitive when Max’s hotshot brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) visits town and makes the games more risky by raising the stakes. Bro arranges a murder mystery party that includes fake thugs and fake federal agents. Brooks gets kidnapped and the players try to solve the mystery. But the players soon realize things aren’t what they are supposed to be and they are in over their heads. As the night wears on, there’s one surprising twist after another.Jesse Plemons steals the comedy honors as the creepy divorced cop neighbor who resents not being invited to game night. His clumsy act and strange looks are really weird and funny. Bateman and McAdams have good chemistry together, and hold the film together. Also catching my attention is the Billy Magnussen ladies’ man character and his date the Sharon Horgan character, as the clueless dude brings to the game some dizzy blondes; and, there’s the running-gag about infidelity with a celebrity that plays out between the married couple Lamorne Morris and his partner Kylie Bunbury.

The film takes a few steps back when it tries to get too cute and put too much into its farce by trying to determine what’s real, and also when it gets away from its characters by filling the screen with car chases and bar fights. But, for the most part, the story works and is most entertaining.