Marc Fienberg’s Play the Game is being billed as “Andy Griffith as you’ve never seen him before.” I can safely say this is true: I have never watched Andy Griffith feign an orgasm while having his, uh, Opie orally satisfied by Liz Sheridan after she slips him a Viagra mickey. The real question is, however, was this something I needed to see?
The answer, of course, is a resounding probably not. Just don’t tell writer/director Fienberg and the film’s producers this—they’ve basically mortgaged the entire film on the idea people actually want to watch this kind of thing, so much so that it pops up again after the credits. It’s not so much a problem with sexual frankness in this particular scene or the movie in general, but rather how hammy and juvenile it is the way it’s handled. The film’s jokey sitcom humor and its sexual attitude of a pack of roaming high schoolers turns the movie into a geriatric American Pie knockoff. The only elements missing are the Benny Hill theme and Don Knotts as Stifler.
Maybe the worst part is how Fienberg thinks he’s tackling weighty issues. In interviews, he’s talked about how the purpose of Play the Game—with its story of an old man (Griffith) getting dating advice from his dopey grandson David (Paul Campbell, 88 Minutes)—is to remind people that the elderly want companionship and sex just like younger people. This is fine, except every old person in Play the Game is a hemorrhoid-obsessed, cluelessly dim-witted, out-of-touch codger or a hemorrhoid-obsessed, cluelessly dim-witted, senile codger, all out for a cheap joke at their own expense.
Actually, that may not be the worst part; there are many parts of this movie that are pretty awful. There’s a parallel plot involving grandson David—who we’re supposed to believe is some Don Juan, super adept at tricking women into sleeping with him—trying to woo his dream girl (Marla Sokoloff, Dude, Where’s My Car?) and failing miserably. All of this leads David—who spends the majority of the film being a louse or a creep—to the kinds of important life lessons that are only learned in movies. He learns not only about honesty, but also perfects overwrought speechifying (seriously, he gives more speeches than Abraham Lincoln) on love and feelings. For a second, the point of the movie is the importance of sincerity in relationships, before being undermined by the film’s horribly obvious last-second twist.
By examining relationships, Fienberg seems to think he’s following in the tradition of Woody Allen, but Allen’s never made anything this devoid of style or substance (I’ve seen roadkill with more verve) even on his worst day. The closest Fienberg gets to Allen is when he lifts the same old Groucho Marx’s adage—that he didn’t want to belong to any club that would accept him as a member—that Allen used in Annie Hall (1977). Finally, to top it all off, the sound track is full of generic, whiny pop punk. If anything, Play the Game reminds me of another Groucho quote: “I had a wonderful time, but this wasn’t it.” Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language.