By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Our narrator is a struggling screenwriter who wants to write a script for an action thriller.
But to earn the privilege of doing so, his sensible, commission-seeking agent tells him, he better sit down and write a romantic comedy.
So he does.
One little problem, though: How can you write a movie about being in love when you've never actually been?
Such is the premise springboard in Playing It Cool, a movie with pretensions of sidestepping the obligatory conventions of the contemporary romcom genre that ends up parading and fully embracing them.
Chris Evans, currently on screens as Captain America in the blockbuster, Avengers: Age of Ultron, plays the thirtysomething protagonist, referred to as Me but never identified by name, who has never been in love.
Then he meets Her, also never identified by name, played by Michelle Monaghan, who is luminous and breathtaking and irresistible.
She is, that is, only perfect. But she's also only engaged and thus only unavailable.
So he settles for a platonic friendship with her that he doesn't really endorse but that at least allows him to spend time with her.
The trouble is that it's obviously not taking – at least, not from his end.
Debuting director Justin Reardon uses his main character's memories and projections in flashbacks and fantasies to give us whimsical insights into him. But they're more distracting than they are illuminating.
An experienced ensemble -- Luke Wilson, Topher Grace, Aubrey Plaza, Anthony Mackie, Patrick Warburton, Martin Starr, Philip Baker Hall, Ioan Gruffudd, Ashley Tisdale, Matthew Morrison, and Giovanni Ribisi – offer useful support, even though nearly all the roles are underwritten, but enough so that there are moments when we think perhaps the focus is on the wrong folks.
But why should we be so disloyal to the focal characters? After all, Evans (who also served as the executive producer) and Monaghan are certainly likable, with chemistry that, if not overwhelming, isn't exactly counterproductive either.
And yet they don't win us over, don't go home with us when their movie is over, don't break out of their genre cages.
Compelling, in other words, they're not.
But the bigger problem is the script by Chris Shafer and Paul Vicknair, which addresses the dilemma of romance versus practicality and the possibility – or not – of platonic interrelationships, but simply doesn't bring the two lead characters off the page by fleshing them out and at least approaching three-dimensionality.
The movie really is as generic as its title, which replaced the film's previous, less generic title, A Many Splintered Thing.
So we'll romance 2 stars out of 4 for a strained romantic comedy with a message that could serve as its own review: Playing It Cool is not so hot.
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