There are a lot of themes and ideas one can throw into a simple action comedy, which can backfire and usually does. Role Play is enjoyable because it’s easy with itself and has just the perfect casting for this kind of story. With Kaley Cuoco and David Oyelowo in the lead, the movie feels very well-balanced, and there is a kind of dialogue going on here with the actors having been cast against type. Oyelowo is known for some heavy-hitting dramatic roles, and in Role Play, he changes his persona to suit this new part, where he is a little discombobulated throughout the whole film, while Kaley Cuoco gets to play the tough killer.
The role reversal is a nice touch precisely because that point is not hammered on the audience. I seem to remember Knight and Day, where Tom Cruise was the one who remained calm and composed, and Cameron Diaz had her jaw drop every time something happened. In recent years, it’s the women in the Mission Impossible films that have figured it out, and Tom Cruise has to do a double take to believe his luck. Role Play follows this formula, and Kaley Cuoco gets very close to nailing the part. She is given lines like ‘trust me’ and ‘I have a plan’ that give such reassurance that has usually been reserved for the Tom Cruises of the business.
Role Play does not take time to build up its exposition. We are told straight away that Emma Brackett, aka Anna Peller, is a cold-blooded killer. She is married to Dave Brackett, who doesn’t know about this other, quite brutal side of his wife. The marriage of seven years couldn’t have worked out if Emma didn’t truly love Dave, but this killing business had to continue for a little bit more time, and it had the potential to ruin it all. The unexpected turn in the story came with the entry of Bob Kellerman, played brilliantly by Bill Nighy. Nighy is such a good actor and has such good command over the English language that his dialogue delivery is like music to the ears. He nails the part, and Cuoco has a tough time playing the scene against Nighy’s ease. The scene does work in her favor a bit, as it happens in a hotel bar and she is waiting for her husband, Dave.
The couple had decided to spice up their marriage, and what’s better than playing a role as if they were somebody else and meeting each other for the first time? So they changed their names, just for one night, and instead of having a good time, they came under the radar of Agent Gwen Carver, who had some unfinished business with Emma. The idea works as it is not bleeding with a social commentary of sorts. The idea is contained well within the genre of action comedy, but the Bill Nighy part is a little too good to not be explored more. That was the first thing that took me out of the film. Connie Nielsen comes in the second half as Gwen Carver, and her role is the weakest of the film.
At one point, the film does seem like it’s parodying a lot of films or is going to, with the constant question of ‘Where are the kids?’ asked by Cuoco’s character. It seemed like the kids were going to cause some trouble as well, but it all just turned out to show that Cuoco is a good killer but a better mother. David Oyelowo is committed to the part and makes the dialogue work, adding a little bit of inflection to make the scenes even funnier. The movie takes its breaks when it is thinking of just going into the goofy territory. Director Thomas Vincent doesn’t make the film into a laugh-out-loud comedy. There is respect for love and dignity is given to the marriage, even though Oyelowo’s part is written to show him in a dimwitted fashion. Perhaps it’s for maintaining the dignity of marriage that Cuoco is not given too many slick lines that would render Oyelowo’s part even more dimwitted.
The action scenes in the film are quite good, except in the final act. The choreography of the fight scenes at the very end took a very convenient route, and it seemed like the film had run out of its ingenuity. The writing too suffers in the end, and the bubbly thrill the film had maintained fizzles out. The ending surely could have been better, but given its slick opening and a decent second act, the film makes up for much of it. Role Play doesn’t overindulge in anything, and the same goes for the background score. When things get interesting or characters are finding something out, the score picks up, and there are pretty good but simmered-down drum beats to excite us.
Role Play is not a bland action comedy by any stretch of the imagination, but it is subdued. The drama isn’t heated up for too long to reach its boiling point. Even for action comedies, there must be a point of rage and irrationality lurking somewhere. Role Play misses out on the anger, and the sequence plays out like its anti-anger. There is a brutal killing in this film, the platform scene, which has that element of rage in it, but otherwise, it is a simple affair. The risk is clear in Role Play, and that is that there is a clear point when the subdued or rather incomplete nature of the plot will start to unravel, but the movie just finishes things at that point before these thoughts arise. Maybe there was once a plan to shoot some extensive flashback scenes to solidify Carver and Emma’s relationship, but it was dropped as it disturbed the tone of the film. But in any case, Cuoco manages to play the part decently with full backing from Oyelowo and Nielsen. And I just learned that Bill Nighy hasn’t won an Oscar yet, and that is just ridiculous, for he is just too good to be reduced to cameos.