Interesting concept, flawed execution. End result? A "good one minute, not so good the next" cinematic experience. Such is the tale of 'Two Can Play That Game,' a feature with a very obvious target audience. I have no problem with that, as films in the romantic comedy genre should rightfully aim to get women to the theater, even if the guys dragged along should also get some sort of attention in the run time. My questions and concerns have nothing to do with targeted audience so much as with the fact that the film's basic premise is unique yet frustrating beyond belief.
In 'Two Can Play That Game,' Shante Smith (Vivica A. Fox) is our guide, our none-too humble narrator, as she holds our hands through the journey that is the love lives of her group of four friends. The leader of her clique, she pushes her friends (Wendy Raquel Robinson, Tamala Jones, and Mo'Nique) through the ups and downs, the good and the bad when it comes to the men they love. Smith's beau, Keith (Morris Chestnut), seems the perfect match, but one misstep is about to put him through the ringer, as his scorned love wants to implement her ten day plan on him to make him see that she's the one. With Keith's pal Tony (Anthony Anderson) in his ear giving advice, often times nailing what Shante is up to, the two quarreling love birds have to put the pieces back together fast, or the gamble that was Shante's plan will blow up in her face.
Notice in the introduction I said the film had a unique premise, an interesting concept, both phrases that aren't descriptive of the quality of the ideas put forth in the film. Well, that's because I wanted to wait until right about here to say that I found the entire basis of the film to be among the most asinine ever put on celluloid. In fact, I damn near hated the Shante character by the time the film was over. I readily found myself rooting against the woman and her petty, childish, manipulative ways, as I was just waiting to see what new low was to be in her ten day program.
Simply put, this is one of the most selfish characters ever put on film. See, Keith says he's working late one evening (a line brought up earlier in the film as the number one lie used by cheaters), and that night, at dinner with the rest of the gals, Shante catches Keith on the dance floor with another woman. Not once does the woman whose job in advertising (that includes its fair share of schmoozing) seem to trust in her man, that perhaps he did, in fact, work late, and is just off work. See, Shante isn't the type who seems capable of getting ready to go out in under an hour or two's time, nor does she ever show herself to be the patient type, so perhaps Keith didn't want to bog her down. Nope, the second she sees him (at a spot where he'd know she would be, mind you, which furthers the fact that he obviously isn't preparing to eat some side dish), she breaks into her routine, her patented plan to be the most self-centered woman in the universe.
All that is bad enough, but the fact that Shante Smith literally is the narrator, taking breaks from reality to talk directly to the audience in damn near every scene, makes her character overbearing at the very least. She goes into her "talk to the audience" tangents, rationalizing her behavior, at a moment's notice, while others are around, just sitting, standing, waiting patiently for her to finish her diatribe so that reality may again commence. Yeah, that doesn't seem at all like someone who thinks she's the center of the universe, not one bit!
Mind you, Keith, is being put through hell by the woman he loves for the entire film, he's scorned, throwing himself out there for a careless mistake in judgement that may have been 100 percent innocent, with no dirty dancing or kissing to prove otherwise, for a woman with quite possibly the most ridiculous, distractingly hideous, stupid tattoo on her arm ever, sullying any beauty she had with something that can be outdone by the local prison artist/meth head. This real life Fox tattoo, of a decapitated fox, is a constant eyesore. I guess lawyers in the universe this film exists in are attracted to good looking gals with the most painfully ugly tattoos ever, in the same way that all the women go for the men with the gap teeth.
Let's just say men aren't portrayed all that flatteringly in 'Two Can Play That Game,' while women, well, they're perfect angels, despite their constant scheming. This imbalance wears thin so fast, the film turns into the anti-Tucker Max. And it's a shame, too. Women deserve a film that's a fun little guilty pleasure, a revenge flick against the jerks who cheat on them, to turn a horribly ugly, sometimes life altering situation into something a bit lighter and easier to deal with. I just don't see how this particular flick really does anything but paint with the broadest of strokes one of the most unflattering depictions of human relations captured on film. Reality doesn't quite work like this. I get it, the old saying about the ones meant to be being the ones that come back to you once you let them go, but if you cage someone up and torment them, treating them cruelly for your pleasure, perhaps you're doing someone a favor. Just sayin', is all. It's hard to relate to any male character in the film, save for Anderson's buddy character, as every other male is a total tool. It's also hard to relate to the females, no matter your history in relationships, when they treat life like some kind of cruel gauntlet. And no, I didn't need Shante Smith to stare directly at me to help me come to that conclusion, as, really, people are capable of independent thought in our world, even if they aren't in hers.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Two Can Play That Game' is given a Region A only marked BD25 debut on Blu-ray from Image Entertainment. This disc doesn't feature any annoying pre-menu content, but the audio loop found on the menu makes up for that, as it's really, really awkward. Uhh-uh, it whines at me, with every loop, the only spoken word in the track. Does it make sense? Uhh-uh!
Image brings 'Two Can Play That Game' to high-def with a 1080p transfer in the slightly opened up 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The DVD release featured both pan and scan 1.33:1 and the natural 1.85:1, but the loss of pan and scan, really, you'll only ever hear me complain about that when I have some kind of a stroke.
The picture quality of this release proves that indeed, two can play this game. In this game of rock'em sock'em robot, we have a four star video quality picture duking it out with one that's two star or below. The fact that this is even a competition proves that something is wrong here.
Picture the blue robot as the happy one, the one that makes me feel mellow and relaxed. It represents the higher quality moments of the release, visually, the sharper bits, high in detail, which are over half the film's run time. It features sharply, finely detailed hair in Fox's mane, good edges, untouched grain levels, and mostly accurate and constant skin tones. Textures, another strong suit, are much more frequently a blessing here.
The red, robot, is one tough sumbitch. He's got his fair share of dirt, which is easily noticeable, along with some ugly scratches. He also brings inconsistent black levels, fuzzy/bloody reds, minor noise, detail fluctuation (that can be dramatic for some shots) and random blobbed hair suffering from low shadow detail to the bout. Never you mind that a few shots in the end of the film give everyone much darker skin tones than usual, in well lit sequences...that would make this battle a bit too lopsided.
Now that you've pictured all that, imagine that a narcoleptic is manning the blue corner, while an ADD riddled, button mashing caffeine junkie is in the red corner. You know who wins this bout.
In a funny side note, there is a frame at the 31:05 mark that is beyond hilarious, visually. The best/worst sign of the damage to the print is on display, in a blink and you'll miss it moment where the entire picture has a weird flash, that's hard to discern in motion as to what happened. Well, go in frame by frame, and there's a spot where the entire picture looks like it's being seen through a window in a heavy rain storm. Colors splotch, drops distort shapes lightly; hell, Fox looks like she has a skin disease! It's really, really bad, possibly the first time I've seen a wet frame. Two seconds later, there's a quick diagonal flash, a really thick scratch or piece of debris. That shot, yeah, it needs some serious work.
While 'Two Can Play That Game' has only one audio option, one that is, much like other Sony-to-Image titles, limited, it's honestly not bad...nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. The Linear PCM 2.0 option didn't bother me as much as it has on other titles that have gone this route for distribution, even if the ten year old DVD had a 5.1 track (lossy as it may be). While viewing the film, yes, it became obvious that this film easily could support a 5.1 track, and give it enough activity to be worthwhile, but c'est la vie.
Really, I'm happy enough (though not ecstatic) with this track. Sure, there's some weird moments with a whir behind them (such as the entire opening office introductory scene that doesn't make any sense for the noise to be there), and yeah, I was about as immersed as I was entertained. But I really liked how deep the soundtrack got, how the bass got down, even if it didn't get to room rocking levels, and how range was pretty much uninhibited, free to pop or sink. Separation is pretty good, though at times it feels a little clunky and forced. Dialogue is always coherent, and really pretty damned clear, free from all the issues found in the video. Sure, I heard a line or two that sounded hollow, particularly with raised voices, but really, this track does its job. It's the best part of this release, skimped as it may be. Some may take that as a hint, others a compliment. Either way works.
Every extra from the decade old DVD finds its way onto this disc.
'Two Can Play That Game' has an interesting concept, and may very well be a good film for a lady's night in gathering. That said, as a film, it has major, major problems in its narrative. Image's Blu-ray release of Sony's film has good video, better audio, and a healthy pile of extras, all at a very low price. Fans shouldn't hesitate to pick this up, but those going in blind may want to rent first.