Although Role Play has a mega talented cast including Kaley Cuoco and David Oyleowo, muted action can’t spice up this tale of deception and marital mayhem.
*This review contains spoilers for the Prime Video movie Role Play.*
At its core, Role Play is about saving a marriage and family besieged by deception. It’s a premise that’s been done before with lots of success and lots of room for engaging drama and exciting action. It should be adrenaline-pumping, but in the case of this movie, it is not.
Emma Brackett, played by Kaley Cuoco (The Flight Attendant and The Big Bang Theory), is an assassin, having been trained in the deadly arts since she was younger. She’s married to Dave Brackett (David Oyelowo), and they have a family, including two young kids.
Dave and the kids don’t know about Emma’s real job – they think she’s just in fast food finance and has to take a lot of business trips to illustrious places like Boise, Idaho, and the generic “Midwest.” To them, she’s just a mom and wife who is, at times, absentee. The story’s central conflict is kicked off when Emma returns from one of her business trips (aka hit jobs) and returns to her family, having forgotten their anniversary. Although she’s told to lay low by her handler and protector, Raj (Rudi Dharmalingam, known for The Lazarus Project and Great Expectations), because of how the last assignment went, she books a night at a luxury hotel in an effort to make amends.
Emma and Dave are set to spice things up and rediscover each other with a little role play – they’ll pick each other up at the hotel bar and have a magical night, therefore fixing all their marriage problems. (Who needs a sexy nurse costume when you can pretend to be Jack Dawson.) But things naturally go wrong when Dave is late, and Emma is recognized as the “finance” operative, a.k .a. the hit woman she is. Bob Kellerman, played by Bill Nighy (The Man Who Fell to Earth and Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), has to die because he recognizes her and tries to blackmail her. Emma’s charade starts to unravel. The hotel execution gets media attention, and she and Dave are persons of interest.
What follows should be an exciting action movie, as Emma protects her family from a shadowy group called “The Sovereign” and her other enemies. Instead, the action is boring, and the stakes are blah. No chase, fight, or anything stands out as a memorable or truly remarkable set piece. It’s not until close to the end of the movie and a reveal because of her mentor and surrogate mom, Gwen Carver (played by Connie Nielsen, who is probably best known as Lucilla in Gladiator), that we actually start to like Emma and feel any sympathy for her. She’s not rootworthy up until that point.
Role Play is disappointing because of this, and because Kaley Cuoco is underutilized. She’s an amazing actress with the skills and camera presence to carry a series on her own (look at The Flight Attendant!), but she doesn’t get the chance here. There’s no harrowing Point Break chase scene with Johnny Utah on her tail, but instead, Emma has a muted run through Berlin, including through a bar, where she is pursued by two thugs from The Sovereign, one of whom we casually find out was raised with her. This movie has so much potential for awesome that it is unrealized.
Part of why it is so frustrating is because there are elements that hint at greatness but don’t pay off. The scene where Emma has already poisoned Bob showcases just what a badass her character is. She is really good at ending people – and the line where she says she never leaves home without her phone, compact, and lethal poison is fantastic. This movie never billed itself as a version of The Villainess, but Cuoco still deserved some cool action moments, considering it is an action movie about a female assassin.
The moments where the Role Play really shines (and gets that +3 boost to charisma) are when David Oyelowo is on screen. The actor, who recently was remarkable in Silo as Sheriff David Holston and as the titular Bass Reeves in Lawmen: Bass Reeves, is the deceived husband, Dave Brackett, in this story. He’s the actual victim of Emma’s assassin crimes. Every moment Oyelowo is on screen is so incredibly compelling – and as the character is increasingly frantic, you can’t look away. You feel his bewilderment, pain, and increasing desperation, too, as his life comes apart at the seams as everything he knew and loved is upended.
Connie Nielsen brings a real sense of menace to Gwen Carver. She brings the full power of her acting skills to this role, and you’re reminded of her talent and how she’s played iconic characters like Hippolyta in the Wonder Woman movies. Nielsen’s villainy makes you feel sorry for Dave at first for being in her sights. The moments where Gwen interrogates Dave are quite good, and both Nielsen and Oyelowo play off each other well, with Oyelowo skillfully telegraphing the Sophie’s Choice before him.
Role Play doesn’t deliver on the promise of the premise, and we get a rather flat movie, where standout performances by David Oyelowo and Connie Nielsen can’t save it. Messy action and a protagonist we don’t have any real reason to root for weigh down this female assassin action flick.
Role Play will be streaming on Prime Video from January 12, 2024.