Two Can Play That Game

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“Two Can Play That Game” is a most unromantic romantic comedy that shows women to be calculating and manipulative and men to be hormonal dummies. In other words, it tells us nothing we did not already know, though it does it in an entertaining manner.

A very charismatic cast and steady writing and directing from Mark Brown (“How to Be a Player”) make it work. Shante Smith (Vivica A. Fox), a well-to-do L.A. advertising executive, is an expert in the art of dealing with men, doling out advice to her girlfriends like the sassiest Ann Landers you ever saw. Most of her advice boils down to “kick him to the curb”; for as pretty and appealing as she is, she ain’t sweet. She speaks directly to the camera and condenses everything down to a series of rules about when to call, how to punish misbehaving boyfriends, and so on.

As we meet her, she is about to encounter trouble with her own boyfriend, a handsome lawyer named Keith (Morris Chestnut). It seems that one night, while “working late,” he is seen at a nightclub, dancing with another woman. This calls for drastic measures, and Shante enacts the 10-Day Program, taking us through it step by step.

(By the way, Shante addresses the audience as though we are all women, and most likely as though we are all black women. As such, I’m not sure I’m the best one to review the film, since I am not part of its very specific target demographic.)

Fox’s female co-stars are Wendy Raquel Robinson, Tamala Jones and Mo’Nique, each more fabulous than the last. Their foursome is devilishly funny.

Chestnut, meanwhile, gets only one pal, played by the amusing Anthony Anderson. Anderson’s character is the more insightful of the two, giving Keith advice that indicates he ALMOST has caught on to Shante’s plan.

The trouble here is that no one learns anything until the last few minutes of the movie. There is no journey, only a destination. This opens the door to tedium, particularly around Day 5, when we realize there are five more days to go before we are assured of any major change in the weather.

But Mark Brown has done a fine job with the script and direction in that everyone behaves realistically. Shante doesn’t punch a trashy young gal (Gabrielle Union) at a party; she just wants to. A lesser film would have had her do it for the humor value, never mind that it would never happen in real life. I appreciate a movie that can be funny, like this one generally is, while still grounded in reality.

B (; R, plenty of profanity, including some strong sexual dialogue.)

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