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GAME NIGHT: Good cast + great script = lotsa larfs

Have you ever written LOL when you didn’t actually LOL? Just how many jokes truly make you laugh out loud?

More to the point, how often do you actually LOL during a film that bills itself as a comedy?

For me, it’s usually a handful of chuckles. Peter Sellers, Rowan Atkinson and the Marx Brothers are among the few who generate guffaws from start to finish.

But I might be adding Mark Perez to that list.

He’s the little-known screenwriter who penned the fiendishly clever “Game Night,” a brand-new thriller that is both exciting and laugh-out-loud funny.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play a couple whose titular activity gets out of hand when Bateman’s hotshot brother (Kyle Chandler) gamely arranges to have himself kidnaped, leaving clues behind for Bateman-McAdams and two other couples. But the subsequent abduction seems a little too real, and the three pairs of gamers soon find themselves in an escalating cycle of gunfire, car chases, fistfights and other skullduggery in which it’s impossible to tell what’s real and what isn’t.

Though there’s too much gore and crude talk for my taste, Perez handles the plotting brilliantly. He hustles things along just fast enough to keep us guessing, yet he never outdoes it with the twists and turns. If he had (which must’ve been tempting), then we’d never have to wonder whether this or that was real; we’d just be waiting for the next surprise.

I’ll admit there is one predictable moment; but Perez almost instantly pulls another fast one -- and then a few more. Even the closing credits hold our interest; the first minute clarifies a particular plot-strand -- and then, once absolutely everything has rolled, there’s still one final and very fitting post-credit scene.

What’s even more impressive is that in the midst of all its gags and twists, “Game Night” is actually about something: It’s about two marriages that need healing; it’s about sibling rivalry and false ambition; it’s about trying not to exclude that one weirdo who doesn’t fit in. Indeed, Perez puts so many balls in the air that it’s like a feat of magic watching them all fall into place.

Bateman and McAdams have a lot of chemistry, and Jesse Plemons (“Breaking Bad,” “Hostiles”) is simply uncanny as an oddball neighbor who is both a cop and a grieving divorcee -- with the gaming expertise of a four-year-old and all the social skills of an electric eel.

Laughs are generated by the fact that we realize much sooner than the couples that they are in way over their heads; by their middle-class incompetence in the face of genuine thugs; and by the constant comic unexpectedness of Perez’s pell-mell plotting.

I’d love to share some specific funny lines, but I ditched my habit of jotting things down because most of the time I was glued to the story. And the rest of the time I was practically ROTF -- or at least LOL.


“Game Night,”

directed by John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein

Run time: 100 min.

* * * (out of four)

Rated R for language, sexual references and some violence

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