At times a family drama and others an action-comedy, “Role Play” misses the opportunity to lean into any of its intentions. Seth W. Owens’ script drops us into the middle of the couple’s domestic unease from the jump, and despite not making an effort to build any emotional foundation in the film’s introduction, the plot lurches forward without a second thought. It only sticks with its lineup of set pieces long enough to provide enough narrative context to get the audience through to the next scene. By the time we’ve processed the plot details, we’re thrown into the next series of bullet points. The consequence of this confused, jittery writing is a plot-focused sprint that misses every chance to indulge in its content, be it action, comedy, or heart.
“Role Play” intends to be a fun film but doesn’t take any time to revel in the elements that would make it so. There are a few chuckles along the way, mostly from Oyelowo’s Dave, whose incredulity and desperation within his circumstances allows a handful of witty one-liners (such as telling Emma to “take a class” when she exclaims that killing is all she knows how to do). However, Cuoco, despite previous proof of her comedic chops (“The Big Bang Theory,” “The Flight Attendant”), feels hollow. Even in scenes of proposed badassery, her performance falls flat. It isn’t for her lack of ability (which peeks through in some more emotional scenes), but rather, it appears that oftentimes Cuoco’s performance is simply incongruent with the film she’s in. Aside from one fun, clubby fight scene, the film’s static editing doesn’t keep up with the action, and makes her somersaults and punches look like tai chi. The two leads also lack the chemistry required for emotional investment. It makes the stakes feel inconsequential, and with that, the film’s purpose.
The relationships lack craftsmanship, as does the world-building. In the beginning, it seems that Emma’s criminal underworld is far-reaching, where at any moment she could bump into a “colleague” who’s trying to take her out. Yet there’s also a lengthy exposition dump later on that suggests a more intimate origin. This sequence is purposefully vague, only giving one real tidbit of information, and winking at you as if you’re somehow capable of inferring the rest. Emma is supposed to be on-the-run, facing the danger of the syndicate’s goons at every turn, but the film doesn’t capitalize on this paranoia or build any intensity to put meat on the bones of these confrontational moments.
An action comedy with feeble fight scenes and little laughs creates a film that feels more like a screen test than a finished product. And while the intent of a woman ready and willing to kill for her family provides an excellent vehicle for both emotional and kinetic gratification, this version’s engine stalls time and time again, never making it to its destination.
On Prime Video now.