Review: ‘Role Play’ Cuoco and Oyelowo’s film is light on laughs and excitement

True to its name, Role Play is an uninspired affair disguised as something more exciting. Its hybridization of the action and comedy genres has worked plenty of times in the past – Kick-AssSpyHot FuzzEverything Everywhere All At Once, and the 21 Jump Street films to name but a few examples. While they are all focused on their themes and mold their action and comedy around their thematic foundations, Role Play barely attempts it. When it comes to the seductive implications of the title, the film plays out like a first try of the act – it’s awkward, anxious, and unsure of what it’s doing.

There are mild spoilers ahead for Prime Video’s Role Play.

The story of Role Play

Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory and The Flight Attendant) plays Emma, a contract assassin introduced to the audience as she’s changing out of disguise, following a successful mission that saw her kill an unknown target. She is efficient and deadly, so much so that the dark web is gradually increasing the bounty on her head, which her point of contact, Raj (Rudi Dharmalingam, The Lazarus Project), does his best to keep under wraps. When Emma isn’t killing, she’s a regular family woman with a loving husband Dave (David Oyelowo), and two children.

Dave knows nothing of Emma’s double life and believes the distance between them is due to a lack of spice in their marriage. Wanting to rectify this, he suggests they do a role play. They go to a hotel bar and act as strangers, in theory leading to an inevitable night of passion. But, during the role play, Emma is recognized by another assassin (Bill Nighy, The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise). Thus starts a downward spiral of events in which Emma’s two lives threaten to collide, jeopardizing her family and leading her to confront a mysterious nemesis.

Kaley Cuoco and David Oyelowo in Role Play. Image courtesy of Prime Video.

The film is vanilla and full of generic plot points

Despite a seemingly raunchy inciting incident, the film is rather vanilla. Double-life assassin or spy setups are uncommon in the action genre, with last year giving us Assassin Club, whose protagonist led a similar life to Emma’s. This, on its own, is not necessarily a problem – originality is all in the execution, after all – but Role Play is full of generic plot points of well-meaning protagonists being caught in a lie and working to repair trust, as well as stock dialogue like “it’s just the two of us” during a climatic standoff. 

At times, the film doesn’t even seem sure who the protagonist is. Emma is rightfully set up as the lead, but she disappears for a good chunk of the second act as Dave comes to terms with certain revelations surrounding his wife. There is a lack of agency to the characters that makes them hard to engage with beyond the relatable goal of wanting to do right by one’s family. Even the ultimate antagonist of the story is in too little of the film to leave much of an impression.

Cuoco and Oyelowo can’t save this tonal mess

Cuoco and Oyelowo are both great actors, and their early banter scenes showcase some chemistry between them. But, once the jig is up regarding Emma’s secret life, the pair seem to be in different films, with Cuoco playing it deadly serious and Oyelowo upping the exasperation of his character’s world-shattering discoveries to the nth degree. This does provide some moments of laughter from Oyelowo, who is understandably freaked out by the whole affair, but it creates a tonal juxtaposition between the actors that, due to the comedic writing and direction, feels hyperbolic. 

Cuoco has proven herself a capable dramatic actor in recent years, but her performance, aside from a few moments where she gets protective of her children, seems especially exaggerated, from her sarcastic quips against Nighy to the one-liners she makes after making deadly kills.

Kaley Cuoco and Bill Nighy in Role Play. Image courtesy of Prime Video.
Kaley Cuoco and Bill Nighy in Role Play. Image courtesy of Prime Video.

Role Play lacks riveting action

Riveting action can make up for even the most mundane of stories, yet this is something Role Play fundamentally lacks. For starters, there’s only a small number of action scenes throughout the film, with the majority of the runtime dedicated to familial drama. When action does occur, the choreography is obvious, and the rapid cuts that make up the editing quickly become disorientating. There’s a clunkiness to the action pieces that make them hard to follow, diminishing their intensity.

Thematically, there is perhaps something here that champions the working woman. Emma is effectively the family breadwinner, but she also really values being a mother and wife in between her hired killings. It’s refreshing to see a character who enjoys both sides of the domestic and workplace coin, but even then, there are a lot of action films that better explore the feminist undertones of their story – Mad Max: Fury Road, for example. Even if we do away with comparisons, there just isn’t enough material to sustain a full or unique experience here.

Final thoughts on the movie

Role Play may have its moments for some, but it’s a comedy that’s not particularly funny and an action film with not nearly enough action. At best, it’s redundant, and at worst, it’s dull. Cuoco and Oyelowo will no doubt find much better projects in the future but, like the worst attempts at role-play, this is one experience that will likely be repressed.

Role Play is now streaming on Prime Video. Thomas Vincent directs the action flick, while Seth Owen penned the script. Learn more about the movie, including how to watch, at the official website. 

Have you watched Role Play yet? What did you think? Let us know by messaging us on X @MoviesWeTexted or leaving a comment below.

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