There’s a moment in Playing It Cool when Hollywood screenwriter Captain America, aka Chris Evans, lists the clichés present in every bad romantic comedy. So you have the gay best friend, played here with relatively un-clichéd, non-specific sexuality by Topher Grace, the bitchy friend personality, played with typical dry-wit by Audrey Plaza and a run through an airport at the end, or in this case because it wants to be a little different a cab ride through San Francisco looking for heart sculptures. In other words Playing It Cool is trying to dissect the romantic comedy by making you aware of all the pitfalls and obvious devices that are apparent in all these films.
Fair enough, but when you then stick to the formula of said clichés you’re essentially missing your target audience. You know, the cynical ones who, like Chris Evans believe that romance is essentially just a chemical reaction in the brain akin to eating a lot of chocolate. Because Playing It Cool doesn’t play it cool. It plays it safe and as a result it feels flat, formulaic and a little bereft of heart.
But maybe that’s because in this film the main character’s heart is actually on display, literally. Because he, as a writer with a wild imagination, visualises his heart as a chain-smoking, weird noirish character always on the periphery of his life, watching and waiting until he can give an “I told you so” shrug at the most opportune moment. Which he does, quite a lot.
So when our loveable hero meets cute-as-a-button and also slightly cynical about love Michelle Monaghan you’d think you could be in for a Crazy Stupid Love musing on romance that doesn’t necessarily end up the way you think it will. But it does. It’s hugely frustrating because on some levels there is running to be had in the boy and girl as friends thing. Look at last year’s What If as a recent cute example, but here it feels forced and, given Evans’ character is a man who claims to not believe in love, he’s far too easily seduced by the promise of it.
Which is annoying because Evans has a natural charming screen presence, that perfect balance of cocky and insecure. His friends are mildly entertaining and as executive producer of the film he seems to have pulled in all manner of his former cast-mates to help him out. People like Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s Anthony Mackie as his agent, Plaza from his Scott Pilgrim adventure and even Ioan Gruffud from his Fantastic Four shenanigans.
A film that wants to be something different and in doing so ends up exactly the same Playing It Cool, like the protagonist, needed a little more research into the genre before embarking on this misadventure.