Emotional Backgammon
2 out of 5 stars
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emotional backgammon This enjoyable low-budget British relationship comedy has a serious sting in its tale at the end that almost undoes it altogether. John and Mary (Johnson and Lavender) are at a key point in their relationship, but they're having serious problems. John thinks it's time to settle down and get married; Mary needs some space to find out what she thinks. They both turn to their best friends for advice, which is of course a bad move since both start playing a complicated game of relational strategy, using John and Mary as their playing pieces. And eventually it emerges that John's pal Steve (Herbert) and Mary's friend Jane (De Peza) have a bitter and twisted past.

Even though it was filmed on a shoestring, the film has style and substance on its side. Director-cowriter-costar Herbert uses inventive visuals, colourful sets and energetic performances to make the story come to life, even though it's not terribly original (the American comedy Two Can Play That Game had virtually the same plot). There's a terrific London vibe here, using real locations to great effect, and cutting to witty fantasy sequences every now and then to get us inside the characters' heads. And he even manages to make the backgammon metaphor work, despite overusing it shamelessly! Alas, he also doesn't seem confident enough to stop when he's ahead, and what's essentially a breezy and undemanding romp takes a couple of seriously disturbing turns. First there's the message that men have to be cold-hearted brutes if they want to get the girl, and then there's a second romance that takes over at the end in several strange and creepy ways (rape, murder and homosexuality all make an appearance). These scenes seriously weaken the clever and funny film that went before, making the whole thing feel amateurish and overambitious.

cert 15 themes, language, sex, violence 21.Aug.03

dir Leon Herbert
scr Leon Herbert, Matthew Hope
with Wil Johnson, Danielle Lavender, Leon Herbert, Jacqueline De Peza, Bob Mercer, Matthew Hope, Steve Watson, Steve Edwin
release UK 29.Aug.03
02/UK 1h27

With friends like these: Herbert and De Peza.

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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall