Play the Game
Griffith is too good to play in this ‘Game’
You hate to see it come to this.
Surely Andy Griffith, once the country-classy sheriff of TV’s Mayberry and more recently the most memorable customer in Adrienne Shelly’s big-screen “Waitress,’’ can do better than “Play the Game,’’ a film in which comedic maturity is measured in jokes about hemorrhoids, constipation, and erectile dysfunction.
Written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Marc Fienberg, “Play the Game’’ stars Griffith as Joe, an 84-year-old widower whose grandson, David (Paul Campbell), has set him up in the world’s happiest, horniest retirement community. David is a shrewd car salesman with a well-earned reputation as a ladies’ man. He even has a slick, five-step method guaranteed to reel in female prey. So the least he can do for Grandpa is make him a “chick magnet’’ - or “chick maggot,’’ as Joe first mishears the reference.
With his trousers hiked up to his chest, Griffith’s character plays like an octogenarian version of Mayberry’s Goober, minus the wit. His main female conquests - acted with gusto by Liz Sheridan and Doris Roberts - are easily sharper and sprier, if no funnier. Fienberg’s screenplay may come across as well-meaning and even charming to some viewers, but creatively Joe’s story would need to grow up significantly just to be an average episode of “The Golden Girls.’’
Meanwhile Campbell is stuck in what feels more like a rerun of “Dawson’s Creek.’’ When David falls for Julie (Marla Sokoloff), a sporty, confident woman who plays by her own list of rules, the ultimate game is on. They parry back and forth before winning each other over, natch, and just as with their senior counterparts, this couple has meet-cute moments certainly capable of producing a smile. But that’s as invested as we ever get.
Fienberg’s film spends most of its time trying to convince us that true love starts when you stop playing games. Then, in the final minutes, it reverses itself and puts gamesmanship back up on another wobbly pedestal. The result is hard to cheer.