Playing God

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

Playing God
dir-scr Scott Brignac
prd Aaron Benward, Russell Wayne Groves, Cliff Young, Scott Brignac, Cody Bess
with Hannah Kasulka, Luke Benward, Alan Tudyk, Michael McKean, Jude Demorest, Marc Menchaca, Raoul Canoli, Leighton B Allen, Elle LaMont, Ike Orabuchi, Danielle Ploeger, Cory Hart
release US 6.Aug.21
21/US 1h35

tudyk mckean

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kasulka and benward
Breezy and gentle, this caper comedy-drama is goofy enough to hold the interest, even if it opts for warm humour rather than sharp wit. The movie is nicely written and directed by Scott Brignac, although he sidesteps any real tension in the plot, deliberately maintaining a slow pace that sometimes feels draggy. Thankfully, we have experts like Michael McKean and Alan Tudyk to stir some life into their scenes.
In Houston, twin con-artists Rachel and Micah (Kasulka and Benward) make a living by running small-time scams around town, including a fake adopt-an-orphan charity. In an effort to move to the big time, they launch an elaborate plan to con billionaire Ben (Tudyk), who is obsessed with finding God after the death of his young daughter. So they approach him pretending to be angels and offering him an in-person meeting with the Almighty. When he bites, they hire their mentor Frank (McKean) to play the part. But of course the role goes to his head.
The relatively straightforward plot is complicated by sideroads such as constant intrusions from Micah's angry former mark Vaughn(Menchaca), who violently demands a big payoff and sets a deadline. This seems rather pointless and contrived, as opposed to the moving way Ben is trying to grapple with loss. More obvious, and therefore less resonant, is how Rachel envies one mark (Demorest) who has a musical career and is expecting a child with her husband (Allen). But all of these tit-for-tat sob stories begin to feel distasteful.

The presence of McKean kicks everything up a gear, with his godlike intensity and the underlying way Frank relishes this situation, even as it takes some dark twists and turns. And a hugely sympathetic Tudyk gives the film a remarkable emotional core. At the centre, Kasulka and Benward have vivid chemistry as siblings with a long past, one optimistic and kind, while the other is sneaky and ruthless. Their performances are strong, even if this sharp disparity never makes sense.

Brignac never decides whether this is a jaunty con-artist romp, a moving drama about parent-child connections or a dark exploration of the lingering effects of grief. Each of these elements is engaging, but the way they weave together feels awkward and sometimes rather mawkish, especially when the plot twists begin to fall into place, along with a requisite revenge subplot or two. It's always watchable, but it's never lively enough to be gripping, and its more serious messages are lost in the shuffle.

cert pg themes, language, violence 2.Aug.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall