Home Entertainment ‘Players’ Review: Netflix’s Insipid Rom-Com Should Remain on the Bench

‘Players’ Review: Netflix’s Insipid Rom-Com Should Remain on the Bench


Many romantic comedies utilize deception as a key plot point. However, for every film that incorporates an inciting fib with smarts and heart (from “While You Were Sleeping” to “You’ve Got Mail”), there are others that lack a similar savvy finesse (like “How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days” and “The Wedding Date”). “Players” competes in the latter league. Acting as a dumbed-down, gender-swapped kissing cousin to “Hitch,” it centers on a gal and her pals who know all the right moves to land hookups. Director Trish Sie’s middling and at times mawkish film not only makes us hate the game, but also its players.

Sports reporter Mack (Gina Rodriguez) has been playing the field for a long time and she likes it that way. She and her conniving friends Adam (Damon Wayans Jr.), Sam (Augustus Prew) and his younger brother Little (Joel Courtney) routinely scheme and lie at bars to pick up unsuspecting marks for one-night stands. And they’ve run hundreds of insufferably-named, never-explained plays (“Betsy Ross’s Mother,” “Whiskey-A-Go-Go” and “Farmers Only”) that work to great success. Everything changes when handsome British war correspondent Nick (Tom Ellis) breezes into the office. Mack is smitten and wants to shelve her playbook for good.

To land the man of her dreams, Mack is gonna need some help to run a few more plays and score a second date after their initial casual sex. With the help of editor’s assistant Ashley (Liza Koshy), the crew lays the groundwork for Mack’s meetups with Nick: bumping into him at his favorite bookshop, running along his usual route and attending an outdoor movie. Why she doesn’t stay and chat with him longer during these baited excursions to score that coveted follow-up date is confounding. But just as things begin to fall into place, Mack’s confidence is shaken, causing her to question if this was actually the right play all along.

Whit Anderson’s script holds few surprises. It’s difficult to care about these duplicitous, annoying characters and their journey toward truthful enlightenment as we’re not given many reasons to care. There’s not much at stake. Mack’s defining feature is her trying to get a boyfriend. The personal piece she’s struggling with pitching to her editor comes secondary to the guy and we know exactly where that will pivot in the finale. Plus, the stab at poignancy — everything involving her deceased mother’s terminal illness — to round out her harder edges is frustrating as it feels synthetically manufactured to give her the superficial appearance of depth.

Everyone outside of Mack is one-dimensional. From moment one, we home in on Adam’s puppy-dog eyes and caring behavior toward her: walking her safely to the subway, letting on he knows what she eats when she’s sad, supporting her career and providing a shoulder to cry on when — as the score obtrusively does the heavy lifting — she grieves over cherished memories. It’s clear from the start that this pair are meant to be together, and yet this element is strung out to the point of exhaustion. Little and Ashley’s budding love affair is dealt short shrift, as is Sam’s scant development.

Sie’s direction doesn’t help much either. The choreographer-turned-director fails to find the right rhythms to properly pace the picture. A few of the many montages are repetitive time wasters, which if staged smarter would yield satisfying results. Needle drops deployed on the soundtrack are aggressively generic, serving to annoy rather than complement a sequence’s energy. Comedy comes at a minimum as the execution is sloppy, not snappy. The long-running gags either involve Carl (Jerry Kernion), the gang’s weird Milton-esque colleague, or are oddly preoccupied with smell, from a stranger’s odor in the opening scene through Adam’s heartfelt pronouncement to Mack that she smells like falafel when she’s blue.

Rodriguez elevates the proceedings with her ebullient charm and gumption, but occasionally overcompensates, leading to a few false notes. Wayans Jr., having been a solid draw in “Long Weekend,” “Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar” and “Happy Endings,” has no poker face when it comes to the material, but does show some promise in this genre as a marquee man. Ellis isn’t nearly as narcissistically smarmy as he needs to be to fit the part. Though not without his slights, he’s a normal, good-looking dude and the only character not playing childish games.

The sentiment that honesty is the best policy is hard-earned for these characters, and is good advice for viewers on the dating circuit who are trying to land a partner for a night — or forever. Still, perhaps it’s best if Netflix audiences don’t take their cues from this film. Focus on the fundamentals rather than running trick plays.