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'Two can play that game'

Comedy plays up game between sexes

Saturday, September 08, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Shante Smith is a Rules Girl. Not the ones concocted by two women who spun their "time-tested secrets for capturing the heart of Mr. Right" into best sellers.

No, Shante (Vivica A. Fox) has her own rules about what to do when a man misbehaves.

But Shante doesn't count on rules of engagement being devised by the other side. She learns, as the title suggests, "Two Can Play That Game." It's a sassy African-American, Los Angeles version of HBO's "Sex and the City." The women dish, dine, drink, shop and hold high-powered jobs we barely see.

 
 
"Two Can Play That Game"

Rating: R for language, including sexual dialogue

Starring: Vivica A. Fox, Morris Chestnut

Director: Mark Brown

Critic's call:

   
 

And because this is a romantic comedy with a largely African-American cast, that means Morris Chestnut must be on the premises -- and he is. The star of "The Best Man" and "The Brothers" plays Keith Fenton, a successful, handsome and athletic lawyer who is Shante's boyfriend.

But one night, Keith claims he has to work late, and Shante spots him at a club with a man-stealing rival (Gabrielle Union). The romantic guru of the group, Shante decides to follow her own elaborate advice about reacting to this breach, starting with a "Don't panic" edict and then moving on to a suggestion that she and Keith date other people. With each passing day, the stakes are raised.

As Keith descends into a funk, his best friend, Tony (Anthony Anderson), counsels him. On behalf of men everywhere, Keith must resist showing weakness. The warfare escalates until it looks as if Keith and Shante may be done for good.

"Two Can Play That Game," which takes the voiceover one step further and features Shante talking directly to the camera, is a pleasant, frothy film that's about as deep as the foam on a cappuccino. At the risk of sounding like a traitor to my gender, the infraction that sets Shante off seems minor -- especially because Keith is painted as a sexy saint. It's only later, when she keeps pushing the limits, that he turns into a dog.

Compressing the action into 10 days is rather ludicrous, and product placements reach a new high (or low). The biggest surprise is Anderson ("Me, Myself & Irene," "Kingdom Come," among others), who steps up to the plate as comic relief and knocks one out of the park.

Mark Brown, co-writer of "How to be a Player," makes his directorial debut with this comedy, which he wrote. He based it on his experiences and his sister's man-handling methods.

"For me, the way to my heart is definitely through my stomach. But some of the other ways I've been made to behave is when a woman doesn't return my phone calls or doesn't seem too eager to be with me. Then it makes you wonder, why not me?"

Maybe because he's not Morris Chestnut. Or Denzel Washington, who is referenced as the ideal man. Yes, two can play that game.

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