Play The Game
Directed by: Marc Fienberg
Cast: Andy Griffith, Paul Campbell, Marla Sokoloff, Liz Sheridan
Running Time: 1 hr, 45 mins
Release Date: August 28, 2009
Plot: The story of a grandfather whose allegiance to his deceased wife trumps his need to “play the field.” When his witty-remark-a-second grandson pays him a visit, he opens his eyes to the plethora of opportunities for him to score. With the guidance of the young Casanova, Grandpa Joe learns how to “play the game.” It’s only when David (Campbell) meets Julie (Sokoloff) that he finds there’s more to the “game” than the rules he’s passed on to his granddad.
Who’s It For? Fans of films that hold true to the strict rules of the predictable sit-com format. This film is a by-the-book interpretation of how lessons are learned by those who think they’ve already figured themselves out.
Expectations: My father loved The Andy Griffith show. I had only seen Mr. Griffith as the happy-go-lucky, straight-shooting, nurturing father of the future director of films such as Apollo 13, Parenthood, and Cinderella Man. After catching wind of the fact he’d be sharing intimate screen-time with Seinfeld’s television mom, I had to admit it was difficult to declare I was expecting something worth my wild.
Andy Griffith as Grandpa Joe: How much can you ask of 83-year-old leading man? Griffith’s name overshadows his chops as an actor, and this movie is a formidable stage for a cinematic going-away party. He’s still got the charm he put on display as Sheriff Andy Taylor over forty years ago, if not the general mobility… Or does he? Viagra is the most talked-about drug for those who’ve punched their last time card, and when Grandpa Joe pops his first erection-inducing-pill you almost believe Griffith went method for the scene. His eyes come to life, and he even two-steps. These are cute scenes, and this film rarely asks for more from one of Hollywood’s most beloved treasures. In a film that plays with all its cards in full-view Griffith does his best to “awwww” his way into our hearts. Thought it works in minor spurts, I wish he would have been given a better last chance to make us grin like the Andy Griffith fans our fathers were.
Paul Campbell as David: As a Battlestar Gallactica fan, it was difficult for me to stomach Campbell’s performance as David. It wasn’t entirely his fault. The script sounds like it was written for an introductory-to-screen-writing class at a community college somewhere in rural North Dakota, and his character has as much depth as an inch-deep puddle after a quiet spring sprinkling. Seriously, this is a walking/talking representation of the sort of smart-ass douche bag we all see waiting in line at Jewel with a bottle of $15 wine he’ll try to pawn off to some recent college-graduate as “the good stuff” before he uses a slew of underachieving one-liners in order to bed her. This is a young actor who has proven his worth in front of the camera, but this wasn’t a role best suited for his talent. As a character, Davide just sort of spatters along down a road we’ve all seen more appropriately displayed in FAR better films.
Marla Sokoloff as Julie: Again, I don’t want to throw the blame on the actors entirely. Had a better script been produced, I’d likely be applauding their efforts to keep this sinking ship for capsizing. Where David was a male archetype of a young man who thought he knew it all, Julie is his mannequin-based counterpart. All fabricated sass, no real depth. She come across as a former sorority girl-cum-overachiever who feels the best way to win the man she wants is to secretly equal his conniving methodical plotting. There is nothing about her character that is memorable. You know how great actresses can overshadow underwritten roles? That’s what makes them just that – great actresses. Ms. Sokoloff has a long way to go before she gets to choose with rom-com-of-the-month she wants to star in opposite Matthew McConaughey. A LONG way.
Liz Sheridan as Edna: I love her name – Edna. Can you pick a more stereotypical name for an elderly women on the prowl? As Jerry Seinfeld’s mother in the best Sitcom ever, Sheridan shined as an overprotective, oft-aloof, proud parent of NYC’s best kept comedic secret. As Edna, she drops the innocence, and goes straight for the jugular (literally). She proves the film’s only genuinely funny moments, and you’re sad to see her go when he screen time is up. As an old woman who loves her “sack time” she’s more believable than any of her onscreen counterparts. Divine.
Talking: My God. It’s as if ther script were written in the cut-and-paste sense. It’s a borrowed story where everybody learns something, and I’m shocked this film didn’t go (a) straight to video, or (b) ABC’s movie of the week (in which case they would have to edit out the Viagra-enhanced-Fellatio we have the “pleasure” of witnessing in the latter stages of the film). The one-liners are rehearsed in the way that annoys any smart viewer in the audience. You stop yourself, thinking, “How can anyone say such witty… er supposedly witty things at the right time?” Honestly, it’s almost too absurd to spend time reviewing, so I’ll stop.
Sights: Generic surroundings. Standard Los Angeles backdrop. I do find it odd that Grandpa Joe and Grandson David are allowed to fish in a public L.A. pond. Why they’d want to do that in the first place is mind-boggling. When in Rome… I… guess…
Sounds: Standard sad-guy-with-guitar-and-a-story soundtrack. Nearly as nauseating as the film itself.
Best Scene: The final scene in which a “secret is revealed.” It’s the “best scene” because the film concludes shortly thereafter. The fact that the director felt as if he’s fooled the audience leads me to believe Mr. Fienberg believes most Americans are idiots who couldn’t learn to tie their own shoe-laces. The fact that there were several “whoa’s” in the audience reinstated my personal belief that Fienberg may be right in more cases than I’m comfortable admitting.
Ending: It ended. That’s something.
This isn’t the kind of film you get excited to review. I admit Andy Griffith’s inclusion gave me reason to hope. My father was basically raised by the man, and that was enough for me to momentarily stop grimacing at the inevitable prospect that this film was going to tank. Watching this film was like sitting through any episode of Two and a Half Men, or The Bill Engvall Show: You realize it’s not written for the valedictorian-set, but you’re hoping the writer/director/actors may intermittently surprise you with a genuine laugh, or two. I think I’d rather bathe in cow-urine than be subjected to such cinematic swill as long as I live. Best of luck to Mr. Campbell, and Ms. Sokoloff. I absolutely hope their careers aren’t permanently damaged by this wretched piece of garbage. As for Mr. Griffith, you’ve had a great career, what’s one asterisk going to do to it?
Final Score: 2/10