There are countless movies and shows about spies, secret agents, or individuals who were (or are) in a violent profession, doing their best to live a normal life, only for it to be upended by the very things that they are trying to brush under the rug. It’s tough to pinpoint when this trend exactly started, but, off the top of my head, A History of Violence comes to mind. Then there’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Mission: Impossible 3, In from the Cold, The Family Man, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Dexter, RED, and The Mother. And then, if you venture into the realm of spy movies where they are facing some form of betrayal, due to which they have to confront people who have made them who they are, there’s the Bourne trilogy, Black Widow, Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation (from Ilsa Faust’s POV), Red Sparrow, Atomic Blonde, Hanna, the Kill Bill duology, Haywire, The Net, Colombiana, Salt, and Wanted. Role Play takes inspiration from all of these stories, but it seemingly forgets to be its own thing.
Thomas Vincent’s Role Play, which has been written by Seth Owen, opens with Emma Brackett executing her target somewhere in Buenos Aires and then returning to New York to her husband, Dave, and her daughter, Caroline, and son, Wyatt. For her family, Emma is some kind of marketing expert, for which she has to go all around North America for her clients and business meetings, thereby allowing her to travel internationally for the assassinations that are assigned to her by Raj. Dave is a sales expert, and he seems to feel like his marriage is losing its spark. So, he proposes the idea to spice things up with some role play. Emma, who is already apologetic about forgetting their anniversary, takes things up a notch by actually pretending to be strangers meeting at a hotel lobby for the first time. However, things go sideways when Emma comes across an assassin working for the Sovereign (a rogue organization), who is named Bob, thereby turning her date night into yet another mission. When Bob’s body is found the next day, Emma and Dave become national news. Emma skips town to deal with the situation, and when she doesn’t return on time, Dave has to come to terms with Emma’s alleged dark past that has been unearthed by a member of a special task force, Gwen Carver.
To be honest, if you have seen any spy movie where the spy is unsuccessfully leading a dual life or even any superhero movie where the protagonist has to keep their personal life, their professional life, and the vigilante life apart, you have seen Role Play. It’s actually surprising how unoriginal and derivative Seth Owen’s script is. I am not kidding you when I say that I expected some new twist or some new take on these kinds of films to drop during the second act or even the third act, but that never came. Even though I didn’t like David Fincher’s The Killer a lot, largely because it had an actor with a violent past at its center, I can at least commend it for playing around with themes of narcissism and depicting assassinations in a somewhat realistic and hence darkly comedic way. The way Emma conducts her work life is as formulaic as you can possibly imagine. What you see is what you get. The script and the story have no depth whatsoever. Dave’s involvement could’ve been interesting as he tries to decipher Emma’s backstory while dealing with the repercussions of her actions and taking care of his kids. It would’ve been similar to Julia Hart’s I’m Your Woman, but at least it would’ve been something. So, when Owen chooses to resolve Dave’s period of confusion very quickly, thereby not showing us who this man is without his wife and how strong his love is despite all the allegations, I’m forced to wonder: What’s the point of this film?
Since I have brought up Mission: Impossible and since I am accusing Role Play of having an unoriginal narrative, I have to address the allegation that the Tom Cruise-led franchise (not the Scientology stuff) has been recycling its plot for the past two decades. And, well, it’s not completely true, and it’s not completely false. Every plot features some kind of global threat, and Ethan Hunt saves the world at the end of the day. But the reason why Mission: Impossible is so popular is because of the ridiculousness of its action setpieces. Does Thomas Vincent and his team excel in that department? No, not at all. To be fair, it’s not even aiming to be as riveting as action thrillers or action comedies from the ‘90s or early 2000s, in addition to not being on par with modern action films. But, then again, if the movie isn’t offering anything new and it isn’t doing anything to stand tall amongst its peers, then what is it really doing? Now, despite all the issues I have with the film, I’ll admit that it’s a good-looking one. Maxime Alexandre’s sleek cinematography, Gareth C. Scales’ efficient editing (especially during the dialogue-heavy scenes), and all the work done by the stunt teams should be appreciated for being competent.
The performances from the cast of Role Play are great. Kaley Cuoco is genuinely fantastic. Every time she switches from her “loving wife and caring mother” mode to her killing mode, it’s like watching a magical trick. Her physicality, the pitch of her voice, the way she emotes—it all changes, and it feels like you are watching two completely different people. Cuoco seems to be doing a lot of her action, along with her stunt double, and that’s what helps to sell the kind of threat that her character possesses. At the cost of sounding repetitive, is it something new? No. David Oyelowo is a laughter riot. All of his reactions to the revelations about his character’s wife are perfect. His awkwardness, his silliness, and his attempts at putting on a brave face are exquisite. David and Cuoco have chemistry, and every time they are on the screen together, the frames light up. Hence, they should’ve had more scenes together with Dave trying to figure out Emma’s world and supporting her in the stupidest ways possible. Connie Nielsen, as always, is impressive as hell. Bill Nighy’s appearance is short and sweet. Lucia Aliu and Regan Bryan-Gudgeon are adorable during their limited screen time. As for the rest of the supporting actors, they are all varying degrees of fine.
Role Play is synonymous with the words “wasted potential.” It has the cast, the team, and a basic premise to be one of the best movies in the action comedy genre. But the lack of ambition is what keeps it from being outstanding. I know that I sound like a broken record right now, but it’s truly astonishing that nobody looked at the script or pointed out during the filming of the movie that everything about it is too basic, too banal, and too uninspired. Were they really under the impression that they were breaking new ground with this story? What rock were they living under to not know that this plot has been done to death? Was this movie stuck in development hell since the 2000s, when all the Bourne clones were being released, and has just been unleashed onto our small screens? So many questions, so few answers. Anyway, if you haven’t seen any of the aforementioned movies and shows or come across any story about an individual living two lives, then you should definitely give Role Play a chance.