'Playing It Cool': Film Review

Courtesy of Voltage Pictures
A fine cast is wasted in this self-reflexive effort that's too cool for its own good

Chris Evans and Michelle Monaghan star in this romantic comedy about a couple who try to be friends despite their mutual attraction

One would have thought that When Harry Met Sally definitively answered the question of whether men and women can be just friends. But Hollywood keeps going to that tired well over and over again, the latest example being this determined effort to make Chris Evans, Captain America himself, into a romantic comedy lead.

The central character and narrator identified only as "Me" (Evans) is a Hollywood screenwriter whose agent (Evans' Marvel co-star Anthony Mackie) lands him a job writing a romantic comedy. The problem is, he's ill-equipped for the gig, being, what else, a commitment-phobe who has spent his life avoiding romantic entanglements. It all stems from his mother's abandoning him as a child, leaving him in the care of his grandfather (Philip Baker Hall) and informing him by a note inside a box of Cap'n Crunch. Now he not only avoids relationships, but also the cereal.

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Naturally, everything changes when he meets the beautiful, whip-smart "Her" (Michelle Monaghan) at a charity event. Although their immediate mutual attraction is illustrated by actual sparks that fly when they touch hands, there's a, what else, problem. She already has a boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd), and a very handsome one at that. But as soon as he opens his mouth and reveals his stuffiness—the character is identified in the credits as "Stuffy"—we know that Me and Her eventually getting together is a foregone conclusion.

Unfortunately, getting to getting together seems to take forever. The couple, whose rapport is signaled by, what else, witty banter, agree to go out on a "friend date." And we all know how well that's going to turn out, especially Me's stock romantic comedy posse, played by an impressive if overqualified ensemble consisting of Aubrey Plaza, Topher Grace, Luke Wilson and Martin Starr.

Director Justin Reardon and screenwriters Chris Shafer and Paul Vicknair attempt to satirize the genre clichés by constantly referring to them, often in a meta-theatrical style. Me's brain is depicted by Evans wearing a black suit and fedora, and the two leads are seen in a series of fantasy sequences that achieve little other than stretching the film's costume budget. Such other self-conscious devices as animated interludes, onscreen graphics and having the central character comment on the clichéd nature of what he's doing even while he's doing it are far more irritating than amusing.

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Evans certainly fulfills the hunky aspects of his role but doesn't display a sufficiently light touch for this sort of material, while the effortlessly appealing Monaghan is hamstrung by the male-oriented script that makes her character's inconsistent behavior never remotely credible.  

Its very title hinting at its smugness, the endlessly self-reflexive Playing It Cool seems mostly in love with itself.

Production: Voltage Pictures, Wonderland Sound and Vision
Cast: Chris Evans, Michelle Monaghan, Martin Starr, Aubrey Plaza, Patrick Warburton, Topher Grace, Luke Wilson, Anthony Mackie, Ioan Guffudd, Philip Baker Hall
Director: Justin Reardon
Screenwriters: Chris Shafer, Paul Vicknair
Producers: Nicolas Chartier, Craig Flores, McG, Mary Viola
Executive producer: Chris Evans
Director of photography: Jeff Cutter
Production designer: Patrick Lumb
Editor: Catherine Haight
Costume designer: Beth Pasternak
Composer: Jake Monaco
Casting: Nina Henninger

Rated R, 94 min.