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‘Two Can Play’ — but watching is just annoying

SHARE ‘Two Can Play’ — but watching is just annoying

TWO CAN PLAY THAT GAME — * 1/2 — Vivica A. Fox, Morris Chestnut, Anthony Anderson, Gabrielle Union, Mo'Nique, Tamala Jones, Wendy Raquel Robinson; rated R (profanity, vulgarity); see the "On the Screen" column for complete listing of local theaters.

"Two Can Play That Game" isn't so much a movie as it is a series of commercials with a few plot points and bits of dialogue wedged in between. It takes product placement to a whole new level that's hard to swallow.

The romantic comedy is about a sexy woman who schemes to tame her man after he messes around. So it's incredibly jarring when one character says casually to another in the middle of a dance party, "It's so nice you could make it to my Coca-Cola production." And then you notice the Coke machines in the background, and the giant signs with the soda's red-and-white logo posted on the walls.

Granted, the characters are advertising executives. But these promotions make Nike's presence in Mel Gibson's "What Women Want" look subliminal by comparison.

But enough whining about that. Now it's time to complain about the movie itself.

Writer-director Mark Brown wastes a talented, attractive ensemble cast with awkward dialogue and contrived situations. Funny moments are few in a story that's mostly repetitive and annoying.

Vivica A. Fox stars as Shante Smith, a sassy, self-assured Los Angeles ad exec who spouts dating advice to her friends and brags that she has her lawyer boyfriend, Keith (Morris Chestnut), under control.

But when she learns Keith has been fooling around with the gorgeous Conny (Gabrielle Union), who works for a rival advertising firm, Shante institutes a 10-day plan to get him back. Couldn't it have been a five-day plan instead? Or even less?

Shante's girlfriends (Wendy Raquel Robinson, Tamala Jones and Mo'Nique) offer her encouragement and swap graphic dating stories over a series of lunches; it's sort of a black version of "Sex and the City" in Los Angeles, only not as funny.

Meanwhile, Keith's rotund buddy from the law firm, Tony (Anthony Anderson, one of Jim Carrey's genius sons in "Me, Myself & Irene"), has his own advice to help Keith outscheme Shante. Funny thing is, Tony never has a girlfriend of his own.

Shante finds that it's not as easy to get Keith back as she expected. And until she realizes that game-playing isn't the best way to find true love, it's hard to understand why anyone would want to date Shante at all. She's as obnoxious and self-absorbed as she is stunningly beautiful. And her dating advice is not only misguided, it's passe.

"The Rules," the book that taught women to snag a man by playing hard-to-get, was a best seller back in the mid-'90s.

"Two Can Play That Game" is rated R for language, including frequent use of strong profanity as well as some sexually explicit dialogue. Running time: 90 minutes.