It’s not often that a movie with this much star power doesn’t get a cinema release in the UK, but Playing It Cool has gone straight to VoD, despite the presence of Chris Evans, Michelle Monaghan, Topher Grace, Aubrey Plaza, Luke Wilson, Patrick Warbuton, Matthew Morrison, Ioan Gruffudd, Ashley Tisdale, Anthony Mackie and Phillip Baker Hall, amongst others.
So is there something wrong with it? Well, there’s nothing really bad, but its problem is that it has a lot of ambition but doesn’t quite hit any of its marks. Even so it’s a surprise it hasn’t been in cinemas.
Chris Evans plays a screenwriter who has little interest in the romantic comedy script he’s been commissioned to write, largely because he’s not a big believer in love. With every relationship he’s had, he’s ended up telling the woman he doesn’t feel the same way she does, and he’s now essentially trying to avoid the whole thing. But then he meets Michelle Monaghan, and there’s definitely a connection.
She’s already engaged, but her relationship is all about stability and safety rather than passion. They go out on ‘friend dates’ but to his surprise he ends up wanting more and perhaps an ending that’s straight out of a rom-com.
Playing It Cool’s weakness is probably what it thought would be its greatest strength – and which helped pulled in the excellent cast – its quirkiness. While there’s amusement in the fact Evans imagines himself in everyone’s stories, from being a transsexual Japanese man to a World War 2 sailor, it quickly become a bit tiresome and pointless. And there are numerous things like that in Playing It Cool, where the film seems extremely pleased with itself but which don’t amount to much for the viewer, from the fact we’re never told the two main characters’ names to Evans’ partly imaginary big rom-com finale.
All the quirkiness could have worked if the movie didn’t seem slightly confused elsewhere. Half the time Playing It Cool seems invested in the idea that romantic comedies have value due to their ability to comfort us with a world that’s how we wish it would be. In the other half it appears to be fighting against that and trying to say that love is far messier, painful, difficult and complicated, and that rom-coms are somewhat foolish. There are moments where it almost gets away with having its cake and eating it by bringing those two things together, but it never quite manages it.
Likewise it never quite gets to grips with whether its two main characters are actually assholes – she’s essentially cheating on her fiancé and he’s a liar going after a woman in a committed relationship. There are moments where even the movie itself gets to the edge of wondering whether we should be rooting for them.
All that makes Playing It Cool sound terrible, but it’s not that bad, just frustrating that so much ambition doesn’t really go all that far – it’s a film that wants to take the rom-com, give it a bit of a shake and take it to different place, but gets a bit confused on the journey. Evans is his usual charming self and seems to be having a great time in the lead role, and he certainly has chemistry with the always excellent Monaghan. There are also good turns from the likes of Topher Grace as Evans’ gay best friend who’s obsessed with Love In The Time Of Cholera (and incidentally it’s odd that this is a film full of writers who never seem to have read a book).
In the end I’m not entirely sure what to think. I did kind of enjoy Playing It Cool, but it was also somewhat infuriating and overly pleased with itself. Like quite a few movies, in the end it has way too many ideas and never quite figures out how to wrangle them into something that fully works. But ultimately it’s better to aim high and miss than to exceed your own low expectations – and that’s true here.
Overall Verdict: Chris Evans and the rest of the cast bring charm and wit, but Playing It Cool is too quirky for its own good while never quite figure out what it’s really all about.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac