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Saturday, 10 February 2018

Retro Review: Two Can Play That Game (2001)

Two Can Play That Game 
Cast: Vivica A. Fox, Morris Chestnut, Anthony Anderson, Gabrielle Union, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Tamala Jones, Mo'Nique 
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $22 million 

Plot: An arrogant career woman plays a series of heartless mind-games with her boyfriend to 'put him in line' - only to discover he has a few tricks up his own sleeve 

'At Times Smart & Servicable, But Needed To Have Been A Tad More Romantic'

If I could compare this film, I would say that it leans more towards My Best Friend's Wedding - the only differences being the settings and that Vivica A. Fox pulls off the hard-nosed, foul-mouthed meanie look as Shante probably more efficiently than Julia Roberts, who, but for her turn as Erin Brockovich, is better at being the straight-laced good girl. Unlike Julianne of My Best Friend's Wedding, Shante Smith is not an outright ice queen and she comes across as someone who knows the ins & outs of retaining a relationship- or that's what she'd thought. Connie, played by Gabrielle Union is the love rival for Morris Chestnut's Keith and when Shante catches her trustworthy man with another woman, she takes matters into her own hands. 

Written and directed by Mark Brown, Two Can Play That Game is actually smart in its intentions and in contrast to most rom-coms doesn't dumb down and it operates like a 'how to' guidebook & an observation on gendered behaviours. Shante instigates a 10-day plan to win back her boyfriend, Keith of whom she has mistreated & she expects him to come crawling on his hands and knees. But the plan backfires and with that, Shante realises that perhaps she did go a little too far. 

Whilst some may think its tone is too mean-spirited & cynical, I feel it does drive home certain points. The idea is one I buy into & it has the potential to be not only different but also that that potential is fully realised. It's shame this is not followed through. I would also say it's not so much a romantic comedy or a comedy much about romance, but a comedy/dramedy about relationships and how to keep it going and making their partner happy as well. Shante has her man in Keith (they are together in the film at the beginning), their relationship goes through a bit of rough spell, she calls it off with Keith, but they work things out and they stay together in the end. 

The film seems to be going through a cycle - and it's because of this that prevents this film from being great. It does have a few moments, but when comes to matters of the heart and actually showing not only the inner and outer struggles of Keith and Shante's relationship but that love and affection they truly have for one another, it misses the mark. These are things that this film could have done a lot more with. Instead, we get individual scenes with Shante putting her 10-step plan to work, whilst Keith is left dangling by the wayside. With these lacking, it made the pacing of the movie a little intolerable. I wanted to see a bit more, how shall I put it, of them falling out, not exactly hating on one another but to provide more tension, as well as of them showing more affection. 

It's good to see this is a different type of rom-com and whilst I am glad they didn't go overboard in a sappy sense with the romantic aspect, there just wasn't enough of Keith and Shante's passion to go around. It just wasn't fleshed out as much & that's my biggest disappointment. Vivica A. Fox and Morris Chestnut look good together as a pairing, and still, they just weren't given more romantic scenes to work with that their characters deserved. 

Final Verdict:

A battle-of-the-sexes rom-com that whilst it is edgy and refreshing in places, is also not endearing or romantic enough. The film never truly reaps its rewards and the cast, especially leads in Vivica A. Fox and Morris Chestnut deserved a much more hearty screenplay.

It's serviceable and watchable, just about.  But in terms of romance and in this case two people being in love, as they are together already, it just never really materialised. 

& that is Two Can Play That Game's undoing.


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