Role Playing Review

Role Playing
Role Playing
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Kaley Cuoco’s choice of Emma Brackett is interesting because Emma represents a lot of things. Her real name isn’t Emma, but she has changed her identity and taken on the role of a finance employee in her day job and an assassin for hire working under cover for some shadowy organization. “It’s not a cover,” as she eventually tells her husband Dave (David Oyelowo); “I have to go on business trips to boring towns for the company.” It is basically a high-concept analogy that perfectly epitomizes Cuoco’s own career, one where she has been on television almost nonstop since 2000 as someone or other. Having lived as Penny throughout The Big Bang Theory for over ten years, she must understand the feeling of living through another person – although probably not one who is this dangerous.

Yet that does not mean Cuoco will do justice to Emma. In fairness to its strander actors, Role Play itself is a 95-minute identity crisis. It starts with the preposterous seriousness of such True Lies-like action comedies in which it seems like an ordinary couple going through marriage problems until they realize one spouse is actually James Bond in disguise or something of that sort. However, it keeps switching between artificial psychology and romance along with thrilling speed while still being cute farce all the same time. The misbegotten nature of its genre comes into view at last: it belongs to those streaming-service heist flicks similar to Ghosted or Red Notice which seem like their creators were watching 1963 Audrey Hepburn-Cary Grant team-up Charade from across the room at a bar turned down low.

In fact, the title refers back to an idea suggested by Emma and Dave; they are thinking about things that would bring back some fun into their lives made dull by work and children: renting a sitter out so they can check into a hotel under a different name and role playing as strangers who meet for the first time in a bar. Dave gets one of the few laughs out of the film when he picks a fake name but, true to form, Family Plan soon returns after an enigmatic stranger (Bill Nighy) from Emma’s secret life steps in with some implications that her job is not what it seems. So how did this intruder locate shape shifter Emma? She’s been on the “dark net most wanted” something or another.

It would not be the last time a profound question would be answered by simply shrugging. Role Playing tries to address any moral unease about Emma’s vocation through her claim that she only takes occasional contract killing assignments just to ensure her family remains financially and physically protected without explaining why she has such busy workdays anyway. (She is said to murder for approximately 72 hours each month). Things aren’t much clearer at home: we are firmly told throughout that eight years ago Dave met Emma despite their eldest child seeming no older than ten, which is less important than it sounds but does emphasize that these children have no existence outside of being potential victims.

At times, these stars can overcome this kind of sloppiness with shared megawatt charisma. The split between Cuoco and Oyelowo, however, shows an imbalance: while Cuoco overacts outrageously with facial expressions unsuitable for the numerous close-ups she receives, Oyelowo appears perturbed throughout most of the film. Initially, they may seem ill-suited, but they never synchronize. In order to make people laugh constantly and forcefully by repeating characters’ names multiple times and abruptly like Jennifer Aniston does from her sitcom days and generally fulfilling present-day screen comedy’s obsession with making every single utterance of “Bob” a hilarious moment. At some point during the course of the movie no more than one character realizes that it is a comedy—Oyelowo.

What if he isn’t? Role Play often seems genuinely uncertain, and not in an exciting, genre-bending way. They never explore the reasons why their relationship is wilting; instead, they take it for granted, except when the plot demands them to love and cherish each other. The irrelevant espionage scene (a brawl in a Berlin nightclub does not mean Atomic Blonde) has nothing to do with whether Emma and Dave have anything in common between them anymore or not. Nighy merely strikes the correct tone for this preposterous material: Droll yet committed, oddly menacing yet still comic. That basically explains his role-playing ability. Everything else about the movie could just be likened to a bad game.


Role Play hopes to marry intricate directions of relationships with thrilling secret service escapades through a cast dominated by famous actors. But both sides of this movie are pretty terrible – as are its stars – despite some flicker of life on either side of it all. Kaley Cuoco goes way too broad David Oyelowo looks pained; David Oyelowo looks pained, and the whole thing strains to imitate better movies.

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