×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Playing It Cool’

Chris Evans is the best part of first-time director Justin Reardon's half-baked romantic-comedy parody.

With:
Chris Evans, Michelle Monaghan, Topher Grace, Ioan Gruffudd, Aubrey Plaza, Martin Starr, Philip Baker Hall, Luke Wilson, Anthony Mackie, Patrick Warburton, Mathew J. Morrison, Ashley Tisdale, Beverly D’Angelo, Shelly Slocum

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2139555/

Chris Evans and Michelle Monaghan battle valiantly to keep the banter frothy and the bromides fresh in “Playing It Cool,” a broad romantic comedy that submits the genre to such a rigorous self-examination it nearly tips over into parody — which would have been a good thing. Debuting feature director Justin Reardon leans on first-person narration to comment on the action throughout, a conceit that sucks much of the romance out of the story, and makes it feel a bit like a class project. Available on VOD for more than a month, the movie is getting a limited release from distributor Vertical Entertainment, perhaps in hopes that “Avengers: Age of Ultron” co-star Evans can somehow save the day here, too.

In “Playing It Cool,” Evans is a screenwriter — to drive the meta aspect home, he’s identified in the closing credits as “Me” — commissioned to punch up the third act of a romantic comedy. Endlessly sharing his inner thoughts, he lets us know he’s hamstrung by the fact his mother left him when he was a boy, scrawling a Post-It note on a box of his favorite cereal and leaving him in the care his grandfather. Now he can’t feel true love or eat Cap’n Crunch. Worse, his heart has become an out-of-body second Me dressed like Humphrey Bogart. Much worse.

Trolling the waters at a philanthropic event, he meets the beautiful, brainy Her (Monaghan), and his outlook on romance abruptly changes as they spend time pranking the other guests. Just as quickly, he reverts back to morose when she tells him she’s engaged. But Me can’t get Her out of his mind. When his writer friends trade stories of romance, he inserts himself, and Her, into the scenes, in tableaus that are initially funny — a role-playing reversal-of-the sexes with Evans and Monaghan is irrepressibly absurd — though the oft-used device becomes increasingly ponderous.

The script, by Chris Shafer and Paul Vicknair (their only other writing credit is Evans’ directing debut, “Before We Go”), borrows freely from other films in the genre — “Play It Again, Sam,” “The Graduate” and “Wedding Crashers” come quickly to mind — as Me attends a spate of fund-raising luncheons in hopes of meeting Her again. It doesn’t take long for him to succeed, leading to an on-again, off-again friendship that plays every cliche in the book, even taking time to name a few of them, before the final chase, in which Me takes to the road to try to stop Her from getting hitched to her fiance (Ioan Gruffudd).

Even in a self-absorbed role, Evans, who also exec produces, manages to be eminently likable, though the narration he’s asked to spew isn’t half as smart as the filmmakers think it is. Monaghan is luminous, and indeed, the actors shake every last bit of believability out of the thin gruel that’s given them. Among “Playing It Cool’s” shortcomings is that the best laughs — a riff on the names of great authors throughout history is particularly amusing — come from sitcom-like situations, frequently aimed below the belt, rather than rising organically from the characters.

The members of Me’s writing circle include trusted comedy vets Topher Grace (the overly sensitive gay), Aubrey Plaza (a nihilistic avant-gardist with a secret love), Martin Starr (guy with messy van) and Luke Wilson (insufferable older guy), with Philip Baker Hall as Granddad and Anthony Mackie as Me’s agent. An attempt to tack on happy endings for Grace’s Scott and Plaza’s Mallory feels arbitrary, though more so for Mallory, whose highlight (or lowlight, depending on your tolerance for public humiliation) comes earlier, in a bizarre performance piece.

A spate of editing flourishes and special effects, including continuity montages, quick-cut inserts, color saturation and desaturation, and animation, are accomplished but exhausting — more showy than supportive, with the cumulative result feeling like a competition to deliver the best calling card.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Playing It Cool'

Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, May 3, 2015. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 94 MIN.

Production: A Vertical Entertainment release of a Voltage Pictures presentation of a Wonderland Sound and Vision production and Voltage Pictures production. Produced by McG, Mary Viola, Craig J. Flores. Executive producers, Nicolas Chartier, Chris Evans. Co-producers, Dominic Rustam, Corrie Rothbart, Chris Shafer, Paul Vicknair. Co-executive producer, Jon Poll.

Crew: Directed by Justin Reardon. Screenplay, Chris Shafer, Paul Vicknair. Camera, Jeff Cutter; editor, Catherine Haight; music, Jake Monaco; music supervisors, Gabe Hilfer, Kevin Edelman; production designer, Patrick Lumb; costume designer, Beth Pasternak; set decorator, Lisa Clark; production supervisor, Jennifer Haire; sound, Pawel Wdowczak; sound designer, Aaron Levy; re-recording mixers, Tom Paul, Sean Garnhart; special effects, Ultimate Effects, the Artery VFX; stunt coordinator, Andy Cheng; line producer, Bruce Wayne Gillies; assistant director, Rod Smith; casting, Kim Davis-Wagner, Justine Baddeley.

With: Chris Evans, Michelle Monaghan, Topher Grace, Ioan Gruffudd, Aubrey Plaza, Martin Starr, Philip Baker Hall, Luke Wilson, Anthony Mackie, Patrick Warburton, Mathew J. Morrison, Ashley Tisdale, Beverly D’Angelo, Shelly Slocum

More Film

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

  • Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider'

    Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider' Gets a Concert/Screening Premiere at Radio City

    In a year full of major 50th anniversary commemorations — from Woodstock to the moon landing — why not one for “Easy Rider,” Dennis Hopper’s hippie-biker flick that was released on July 14, 1969? That was the idea when a rep for Peter Fonda, who starred in the film as the laid-back Captain America, reached out [...]

  • Costa Gavras

    Costa-Gavras and Cast on Nationality, Identity, and Cinema

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Though he’s been based in Paris since 1955 and came up through the French film industry, director Costa-Gavras has never forgotten his roots. “Those who are born Greek,” said the Peloponnese-born filmmaker at a Saturday press conference,  “stay Greek all their lives.” The once-and-always Greek was not just in San Sebastian to [...]

  • Lorene Scafaria, Jennifer Lopez. Lorene Scafaria,

    'Hustlers' Director Lorene Scafaria: 'We Wanted to Treat It Like a Sports Movie'

    The star-studded cast of “Hustlers” didn’t just become strippers in the empowering female-helmed blockbuster — they also became athletes. When speaking to “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria explained the extreme athleticism required of the movie’s leading actresses, who all had [...]

  • Jonathan Van NessLos Angeles Beautycon, Portrait

    Jonathan Van Ness Reveals HIV Diagnosis, Former Drug Addiction

    “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness is getting vulnerable in his new memoir “Over the Top.” In a preview of his book with the New York Times, Van Ness opened up about his early struggles with sex and drug addiction as well as his experience with sexual assault, revealing that he was abused by an older [...]

  • 4127_D022_00003_RC(l-r.) Elizabeth McGovern stars as Lady

    Box Office: 'Downton Abbey' Dominating 'Ad Astra,' 'Rambo' With $31 Million Opening

    “Downton Abbey” is heading for a positively brilliant opening weekend after scoring $13.8 million in domestic ticket sales on Friday. If estimates hold, the feature film version of the popular British television show should take home approximately $31 million come Sunday, marking the biggest opening ever for distributor Focus Features and beating previous record holder [...]

  • Gully Boy to represent India in

    'Gully Boy' to Represent India In Oscars Race

    The Film Federation of India has chosen Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” as its entry in the Academy Awards’ international feature film category. The picture, a coming of age tale about an aspiring rapper in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum premiered at the Berlin film festival in February before opening to a wave of acclaim at home in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content