Cast: Chris Evans, Michelle Monaghan, Ioan Gruffud, Topher Grace, Luke Wilson
Run time: 94 minutes
Rating: One and a half stars
Playing It Cool is a tale — no, not about unrequited love, as the trailers would have you believe — but of a promising premise let down by some very blah execution. The film is about that "scourge of the theatres", romantic comedies. Just like its lead protagonist (Chris Evans) who plays a script writer who abhors the romcom genre, the film too makes no bones about the fact that it is born out of a healthy disdain for froth of that particular type. So, several of the clichés that abound in a romcom are subverted in Playing It Cool. To begin with, it is a male narrator whose travails in love we must sympathise with, not a woman. Our hero was abandoned by his mother as a child (just after she whispers "I love you" and tucks him into bed) and he’s raised by his grandfather. His mommy issues have made him cynical about love and while he’s only too willing to share his bed with a bevy of lovely ladies — his heart, oh no, never.
Of course that’s only until he meets Her (Michelle Monaghan) — a sassy, gorgeous woman who piques his intellect and his heart (and other parts of his anatomy). There’s quite the spark between our hero and Her, but wait — the course of true love can’t run smooth, and here, the spanner in the works is her "stuffy" fiancé (Ioan Gruffud, who’s actually called Stuffy in this movie).
Our hero must woo Her over, and in this, he’s guided by his pack of ever-loving friends (Topher Grace, Luke Wilson et al — when did these actors get reduced to playing side characters?). These friends are of course, eccentric, and so is the advice they offer. They also offer much of the film’s comic relief (Topher Grace especially, with his portrayal of an eternal romantic who spouts dialogue from Ghost as a pick-up line). While he’s trying to win the woman of his dreams — who seems very reluctant indeed to give up Stuffy — our hero is also trying to finish a script for a romantic comedy that his agent has made him take up, as a bait for the action film he really wants to write for.
So anyway, his troubles continue, yada yada yada, there’s a predictable resolution, some more fun is had at the expense of romcoms, the end.
Parodies are always such a tricky thing to pull off — mainly because, if not done well enough, they fail worse than what they’re meant to poke fun at. That’s exactly what happens with Playing It Cool. Chris Evans tries to shed his Captain America image for something more comic, and yet, soulful — and can’t pull it off because his emoting skills are somewhere near the level of a porcelain doll. Monaghan is gorgeous and brings oodles of personality to her role, but the conflict and chemistry between her and Evans is so bland, that you really can’t bring yourself to care much about where it is going. Even stylizations — like the grandfather’s love story being depicted through a comic book animated sequence, or of the hero’s heart being shown as a separate entity (a gloomy man who follows him around) — fall pretty flat. And while the censors have muted out every word that they think might harm your tender, innocent ears, there’s plenty of misogyny that’s been left intact — some very juvenile and derogatory jokes about sex with Malaysian women specifically.
Towards the end of the film, we see our hero making a breathless dash though the airport, as he’s trying to find Her. He notes to himself that what he’s really doing is trying to outrun a cliché. Well, Playing It Cool doesn’t manage to outrun any of those clichés it attempts to satirise. What a pity.