Two Can Play That Game

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 09/07/01 19:59:44

"Throw him to the curb, girl."
3 stars (Just Average)

What I thought was going to be a fluffy "made for the demographic" shallow comedy ended up being a funny, acerbic, romance. While not exactly my thing, the empowering characters showed a less exploitative picture of black culture. Okay, it did hit all the "black culture" hot spots, like church, ghetto fabulosity and big asses but I ended up sitting next to a guy from South Africa, who majored in Gay Studies in Amsterdam and then came to the states to finish a degree in theology and now works in an AIDS community center in Oakland.

That was my favorite part of the movie. I ended up talking to the one person who looked liked he was the intended audience but had no connection whatsoever to the traditions of Black America. He was also my age and somehow we ended up following similar paths of interest through life and then colliding at a film screening. Why do I mention this in a film review? Because I'm in no position to talk about "black culture" because it isn't my own and the only other person who I could use as a mouthpiece, while black, is hardly African American. Race and culture are harder to write about when you take in an international scope.

We did, however, get into an interesting conversation about sexuality and spirituality, political activism and community empowerment. You think blacks in America have had a difficult time until you look at the situation of South African blacks. I felt like I was sitting at the crossroads in some kind of no mans land where my role as a white, working class, American, cultural observer at an African American romantic comedy, was irrelevant because I had stepped outside of the American paradigm and onto the world stage.

So I don't have anything more to say about this film. It's funny and a classic "war of the sexes" film. Vivica Fox plays Shante' Smith, the undisputed queen of making a man "behave". She helps all her girlfriends get their man to "behave" but when her man misbehaves, she sets out on her tried and true ten day program to bringing a man to his knees. But "two can play at that game" and Shante's man, Keith (Morris Chestnut), wages his counter attack. While Shante' is trying to make her man behave, Keith is just trying to make Shante miserable for trying to control him.

Two Can Play At That Game is cute, light-hearted fun, reminiscent of Waiting to Exhale . As a marketing Exec, Shante explains how to reach the African American market. I thought this was interesting because one of the criticisms of media is that it fails to include those who don't have extensive purchasing power. Black visibility in the media is directly connected to the collective purchasing power of African Americans but the traditionally wary black community may open to economic development (exploitation?) if there is a perception of community involvement. No wonder Shante is the only Black member of the executive team. Its not so much that she's young, or even a brilliant market strategist, but she's the only one who understands the market they want to reach. "Not bad for a girl from Compton", she says. That's the cynic in me talking. I guess you climb to power however you can. Somehow Shante's job affords her a spacious house in Beverly Hills even though her ideas are no brainers and the only thing we ever see her do is arrange a Miller Beer promotional party, which is basically the job of a promotions intern at Miller Brewing Company.

I don't know how that party is supposed to stimulate sales in her market by inviting a bunch of advertising execs to a kegger in Beverly Hills, but its like "the things you learn from movies about computers", lots of fantasy. For a film that supposedly models "success" for a black audience, the portrayal greatly diminishes the reality of what an executive does or the difficult and long road towards the kinds of rewards that seem handed out for the most simple of job functions. It would have been better if Shante was shown at her desk or had her title mentioned, but to actually see her do her job wrecked the illusion. However, if you don't know what happens in an ad firm, don't know squat about marketing or have never seen the inside of an executive office, you are none the worse.

The cast is rounded out by a competent group of talented actors including a cameo by Bobby Brown. Producer Doug McHenry says that Two Can Play At That Game is a "positive story about African Americans that have implications and meaning for relationships regardless of a person's background." While I wouldn't trumpet this as the crossover movie of the season, it has enough general appeal to prevent it from becoming grist for "White Folk Comedy" syndrome where the blackness of the film, rather than the substance of the film, becomes the entertainment for a non-black audience.

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