Two Can Play That Game is a very, very entertaining movie. And no, there is not a gun pointed at my head as I type this.
A contemporary romantic comedy with a lot of heart and even more belly laughs, this flick is the perfect example of not reinventing the wheel. It has no illusions of grandeur and makes no attempt to be anything other than what it is: an evening of good, warm fun at the movies. The inhumanly good-looking leads are Morris Chestnut (of Boyz N the Hood fame) and the delectable Vivica A. Fox. Make no mistake that it is Fox's film for the most part, as the events are told from her perspective and the story begins with a demonstration of her skills as a gamesman, with the game being romantic power. All of her friends come to her for advice on how to handle their men, and she never fails to offer wise counsel to them. We assume she has it all together from watching her incredible run of successful tips to her buddies. This woman is hip, cool and in control at all times, and her description of men is less than flattering. In fact, her behavior indicates that she considers them little more than dogs in need of a few weeks of training at obedience school. We know this because she breaks the fourth wall and talks to the camera often during the film. As a rule, I hate this plot device and was annoyed when it was initially used here, but Vivica's Shante Smith is such an engaging, charismatic woman that I grew to not only tolerate but even enjoy her speaking directly to the audience at various points.
Just when we think that Shante has a perfect life with her fella, Keith Fenton (Chestnut), he gives her one of the warning signs she has previously discussed. He tells her he has to work late. As a wise woman of the world, Shante knows that when a man says he has to work late, he's probably cheating on her. Sure enough, while she's out with her girlfriends at a club that night, who should Shante see pressing up against a lovely lass on the dance floor but her own man. Embarrassed in front of her friends, she proceeds to try to gain her revenge by training her dog...I mean, significant other, about proper behavior. The body of the movie is spent showing the various cons used by each side to get the upper hand in the relationship, as they pull and tug and give and take on their way to the inevitable ending that every romantic comedy has.
What I have just described is wildly generic, and that's part of the beauty of Two Can Play That Game. It follows directly in the path of hundreds of films before it but does so with a style and grace all its own. The pace is snappy, the dialogue brisk and the performances truly hilarious at times. Rock star Bobby Brown offers a self-aware cameo as Michael, the buck-toothed mechanic who turns into Kid Ego, while the performance of Gabrielle Union (of Save the Last Dance fame) as a sort of dark-side Shante, a woman just as knowledgeable in the ways of men but who uses her powers to calculatingly manipulate them to suit her whims rather than help her friends find love and happiness, is appropriately catty and over-the-top. Of special note is the work of rising star Anthony Anderson as Tony, Keith's best friend and a Yoda-like figure to him. Wise in the ways of relationships is he. And hilarious to boot. In fact, watching the friends enjoy the festivities between the dueling lovers is a lot of the movie's appeal. They want to help and be supportive, yet there is also a certain glee in seeing their perfect friend struggle against a worthy adversary. That splash of realism enhances the festivities a great deal for me.
The film oozes goofy charm and lots of fun. We know every step of the way what is going to happen, but that awareness only enhances the enjoyment. Films like this need happy endings to offer emotional payoff so the flick lacks an element of surprise, but the journey to the end provides many knowing laughs to those of us who can't help but identify with the struggles of interaction with the opposite sex. With gorgeous leads who have nice chemistry together and who demonstrate the perfect touch of 21st-century neuroses, Two Can Play That Game treads over familiar ground but does so with the confidence that a story doesn't have to be new or unique in order to be very entertaining. Highly recommended.