'Playing It Cool'
The romantic comedy is a fickle beast for any filmmaker to master. The genre has a structure that must be maintained, and even though there are theoretically two ways for these worn-out stories to end, one will always win out: Happily Ever After.
Even more of a p-in-the-a is the guy-centered rom-com. You know the type – those movies about a guy who just can’t grasp the concept of love until it slaps him right in the face. These are even more tiresome, if only because they aren’t just variations on a theme, but the same damn movie with the same damn wisecracking jerk who grows a heart just in time to land a fantasy woman he doesn’t deserve and that could never exist. ‘Playing It Cool’ is the latest placid guy rom-com, and you don’t even need to see it to form an opinion if you’ve even seen one example of this pathetic genre in the past.
Chris Evans inexplicably stars as a lady-bedding, fast-talking jerk who also happens to be a screenwriter. He’s been hired to write a rom-com, but he’s never actually been in love, so he doesn’t have a clue where to start. Rather than working on the script or even watching other rom-coms, he wastes time cracking wise with his best friends, who are all secretly aspects of his personality: the weirdo (Martin Starr), the sensitive gay man (Topher Grace), the generically attractive dork (Luke Wilson), and the dark cynical loner (Aubrey Plaza).
During one of these one-liner slinging adventures, he meets a beautiful woman (Michelle Monaghan) who is able to spit out barbs as fast as he can return them. She seems perfect because she’s a male fantasy rather than a human being, so of course he’s instantly smitten. Since these two characters don’t have complex enough psychological profiles for there to be any conflict in their union, the filmmakers manufacture some by having her be engaged to another man. That way, in between impossibly perfect dates, Evans can fret with his friends and his crotchety grandfather about whether or not this love can bloom. Thanks to that padding, it takes 90 minutes for the obviously perfect couple to get together, and I guess that’s supposed to count as a movie.
The screenplay by Chris Shafer and Paul Vicknair is nauseating in how convinced it is about its own cleverness. There’s no conversational dialogue here, just cheap pithy one-liners that Shafer and Vicnair cranked out between high fives. The characters all sound the same, distinguishable only by the famous faces cast-to-type to play them. How this limp wet newspaper of a script managed to attract such an impressive lineup of acting talent is an absolute mystery. Perhaps the star system really is dead in Hollywood and this is the best project anyone had available. Or perhaps Shafer and Vicknair have a significant stack of blackmail material on everyone involved. (The latter option is most likely.) Either way, you’ll feel embarrassed for all the stars, especially if you like any of them.
To ensure that the movie is even more annoying than the script, first time director Justin Reardon doubles down on whimsy whenever possible. Large sections of the film play out a fantasy in which Evans imagines himself as a film noir detective, or himself and Monaghan in a number of fantastical romantic entanglements. We’re supposed to find these sequences very clever and referential, but they aren’t. They’re show-off stylistic ticks that just make this interminable mess of a “comedy” take even longer to sit through.