The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Playing It Cool

Romantic-comedies, by their very nature, tend to employ extremely well-worn conventions. Perhaps that's why they make such tempting fodder for spoofing. David Wain's They Came Together was a borderline brilliant send-up of the genre. While not on that level, Playing It Cool similarly tries to spoof the modern rom-com, albeit in a less jokey and more emotionally sincere manner. It's not a great movie, but there are enough laughs and clever ideas to make it a passably entertaining comedy.

The premise is admittedly a bit cloying, which is likely intentional. Chris Evans plays a Hollywood screenwriter identified only as ME. ME wants to write action movies, but his agent (Anthony Mackie) books him to write a rom-com instead. This is a problem, as ME has never been in love. (Damn this movie for making me write like a caveman.) Then he meets a beguiling woman identified only as HER (Michelle Monaghan). They flirt and seem to share a connection, but she's already engaged to a safe, comfortable, boring guy, known as Stuffy (Ioan Gruffudd). They decide, instead, to be friends – to hang out platonically. Needless to say, this doesn't work. They're soon in bed, and ME is falling head over heels in love for the first time, much to the amusement of his friends (played by Luke Wilson, Aubrey Plaza, Martin Starr, and Topher Grace). The problem is that, despite their chemistry, HER doesn't want to leave Stuffy, as it would mean giving up all the security she's worked hard to achieve.

Writing the above paragraph almost makes me like Playing It Cool a little less. Look beyond the preciousness of the concept, though, and you'll find some genuinely amusing ideas. For starters, the “other guy” in rom-coms is usually an obnoxious jerk; in this case, Stuffy isn't so easy to dislike because he represents maturity and stability, as opposed to abject boorishness. The screenplay by Chris Shafer and Paul Vicknair also turns cinematic gender roles on their ear a little bit, by having HER be the aloof one and ME be the one who's bumbling and insecure. The way Playing It Cool zings the conventions of the genre often provides some fun, too. Early on, ME laments the way so many rom-coms end with a “chase,” wherein one party rushes to stop the wedding of his/her true love to another. ME eventually finds himself in just such a scenario, which he sardonically comments on as it's happening.

On the down side, Playing It Cool has too many moments in which it calls attention to itself. ME provides a running stream-of-consciousness narration throughout, graphics pop up on screen occasionally, an animated sequence is employed at one point, and there are some fantasy scenes that are kind of corny. To truly hit the bullseye with rom-com mockery, you either have to go all the way to the point of absurdity (as They Came Together did) or do everything straight, with the spoofery running at an almost subliminal level. Playing It Cool wants to be a spoof and a for-real rom-com, which doesn't entirely work.

Still, some of the ways the movie skewers romantic-comedies are smart, and there are several truly funny lines of dialogue. The tipping point, though, is the work of a fine cast. They make the film's missteps a bit more forgivable. Chris Evans is terrific as ME, and he has good chemistry with the equally charming Michelle Monaghan. They elevate the occasionally annoying nature of the material. So do the supporting actors, who provide the right splash of color to the story. Topher Grace is especially witty as a movie-obsessed gay man who can't believe his crush thinks The Terminator is more romantic than Ghost.

Playing It Cool is light entertainment, for sure. It isn't something that you're going to remember a lot about weeks after viewing. But for the 94 minutes it plays, it's a well-acted, breezy-enough jab at a genre that, quite frankly, has it coming.

( out of four)

Playing It Cool is rated R for language and sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.

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