`That Game' is a lightweight war of the sexes

Review: Smart and sassy Vivica A. Fox stars in a confection over just desserts.

September 07, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Sometimes, love is a war best viewed from the sidelines.

The mind games, the cutting words, the deceit - people can't really enjoy this stuff, can they? But hey, at least in Two Can Play That Game, the story of a woman trying to teach her man a lesson, and her man's refusal to learn without a fight, the carnage is leavened with a few laughs.

Shante Smith (Vivica A. Fox) is a woman with her act together: She's smart, she's beautiful, she's got a big-time position with a big-time company, and she's got herself one fine specimen of man. She's so all-that, in fact, that she's the idol of her friends, who come to her for relationship advice. And Shante is more than glad to dispense it, urging her girls to keep one thought foremost in their minds: Never let the man have the upper hand.

But then Shante's authority is put to the test. After saying he'll be working late, boyfriend Keith Fenton (Morris Chestnut) is spied on the dance floor with an associate (Gabrielle Union) - and a fine-looking one at that. Her friends are shocked that Shante and Keith's rock-solid relationship seems to be unraveling, but Shante insists it's no big deal. Give me 10 days, she says, and I'll teach that man a lesson that'll have him crawling back, begging to be forgiven.

And so the contretemps begin, as Shante carefully lays out the rules women must follow to tame their men. (Any similarity between her rules and The Rules, a popular woman-power tome of a few years back, are not at all coincidental):

Don't be available the first time he calls. Show up at his house in a slinky dress, then leave before anything seriously romantic begins. Find yourself another boy-toy to dangle in front of his face. This is how Shante has taught her friends to keep a man, and now she has the chance to try it out for herself.

Will it work? You'll have to buy a movie ticket to find out. Keep in mind, however, that this is lightweight comedy. Don't expect much in the way of life lessons.

First-time director Mark Brown (who previously wrote How To Be a Player) doesn't always have the best ear for dialogue, and he depends too much on that hoariest of screenwriting crutches - letting the main character talk directly to the audience.

But he makes some wise choices, too. It's never precisely clear, for instance, whether Keith was cheating. And both Shante and Keith claim their fair share of victories.

As Shante's friends, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Tamala Jones and Baltimore-born Mo'Nique come across pretty generic. Faring far better is Anthony Anderson as Keith's friend and wartime advisor, Tony; he almost steals the picture with his brash enthusiasm and take-no-prisoners approach. He certainly gets off the film's funniest lines.

Fox and Chestnut work well together; it's not hard to imagine sparks igniting between two such beautiful people. And Fox, who played the stripper who saved the first lady in Independence Day, displays enough on-screen sass to almost make her constant asides to the audience work. Her star-power alone makes Two Can Play That Game compelling, if not always interesting.

Two Can Play That Game

Starring Vivica A. Fox, Morris Chestnut

Written and directed by Mark Brown

Rated R (adult language)

Released by Screen Gems

Running time 90 minutes

Sun score **1/2

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