Jason Bateman has come a long way since “The Hogan Family.”
The child actor didn’t follow the path blazed by his unfortunate predecessors. Sure, some gigs dried up some during his 20s, but he didn’t lead a destructive second act best told by tabloid reporters.
He came roaring back, starting with the great Fox sitcom “Arrested Development.”
Since then, he’s been, well, everywhere. Indie films (“This Is Where I Leave You”). Netflix originals (“Ozark”). Oscar-bait dramas (“Up in the Air”). Even the director’s chair (“The Family Fang”).
He mostly plays a variation of his signature screen persona – a buttoned-down soul who’s smarter than everyone around him but it’s not helping him a lick.
That character returns with “Game Night.” It’s certainly worth your while if you enjoy dark comedy with a splash of meta goodness. Why not revisit four other Bateman projects that similarly show how good he can be on screens large and small?
There’s dark, and then there’s “Ozark” level dark. The tale of a slick money man (Bateman) fleeing for his life overflows with death and destruction. Bateman’s character, a married father of two, saves himself time and again by outsmarting his adversaries, only each escape costs a little bit more of his soul. There’s nothing funny about the character or his plight, reminding us how versatile Bateman can be in the right vehicle. The 49-year-old directed a portion of the show’s first season, nailing the saga’s disturbing themes with elan.
Want to divide Bateman fans? Bring up this coal black 2013 comedy. The actor stars and directs in a tale of a grown man who enters a children’s spelling bee. Why? It’s complicated, pathetic and often fascinating. This isn’t the kinder, gentler Bateman persona. This fellow’s a jerk, but it’s how he became one that will grab you without letting go.
Yes, we never actually see Bateman in this Disney animated hit. Doesn’t matter. His line readings as one very sly fox give the film its bite. “Zootopia” packs plenty of messaging within its two-hour frame. Bateman’s charm and way with a one-liner keep the movie from preaching to audiences.
Ellen Page got the bulk of the attention for this smart, resourceful hit. Look deeper. Sometimes the best actors shine when the spotlight isn’t on them.
Bateman’s turn as the man hoping to adopt Juno’s baby captures all the complications you’d demand from such a character. The film’s third act finds him separated from his wife and even suggesting a romance with our too-young heroine. It’s enough to make us recoil, but Bateman’s performance kept us intrigued about his emotional crisis.