It goes without saying that the premise for Role Play is one that has been explored on multiple occasions. The marriage-on-the-rocks-is-rocked-even-further-by-realising-one-half-is-an-assassin is a narrative utilised by such stellar genre examples as True Lies, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Nobody, and to less grand effect in Apple TV’s recent misfire The Family Plan. Role Play sits somewhere in between.
Kaley Cuoco, who is doing a fine job of proving to audiences she’s more than the blonde stereotype she aced for umpteen seasons on The Big Bang Theory, is Emma Brackett, who, as far as her adoring husband (David Oyelowo‘s Dave) and two kids know, is a plane-hopping marketing executive. In actuality, she’s a highly-trained assassin (aren’t they always?), once a member of a secret organisation who has since gone freelance and, in a presumed career no-no, has actually enjoyed her life as a mother and a wife.
Juggling a few too many balls in the air – contract killing can be such demanding work – Emma has returned from her latest “business” venture to the realisation that she’s forgotten her wedding anniversary, and, wanting to make amends, suggests that she and Dave take the night off from vanilla parenting and go for a horny hotel getaway in the city. The hook though is that they pretend to be different people in order to spice up their regular routine. A role play, if you will.
This all sounds like a sexy and harmless idea if it wasn’t for Dave running late, leaving the red-wigged Emma alone at the bar to be preyed upon by supposed financier Bob Kellerman (Bill Nighy, injecting his usual kooky energy to glorious effect), who may or may not know who Emma truly is. The intrigue of it all! And, honestly, the cat-and-mouse between Cuoco and Nighy is delicious fun, and had Andrew Baldwin and Seth W. Owen‘s script leaned into their dynamic further, Role Play could’ve stepped outside the zone of comfort it ultimately adheres to.
Instead, it bids adieu to Nighy as quickly as he saunters in – but his interaction with Cuoco is a treat – and once Dave and Emma vacate the hotel, Role Play paints itself very much by the numbers. The reported death of Bob brings suspicion to both Emma and Dave, and them admitting that they were pretending to be different people only fans the flame, but this isn’t anything a trained killer can’t handle. A blindsided husband though? That’s a different story.
Bringing in the formidable Connie Nielsen as a mysterious agent on Emma’s trail certainly boosts the film’s energy levels, and her and Cuoco’s back-and-forth in their eventual showdown only reiterates Cuoco’s commendable commitment to the material, but director Thomas Vincent (TV’s Bodyguard) doesn’t present the action in a manner that’s overtly exciting. Cuoco hones such evident enthusiasm, and Oyelowo continues to flex his comedic muscle with ease, that it’s a real shame Role Play can’t match them – especially when the story idea is there to do so.
Perhaps we’ve been so spoiled by the genre that we’re now even more critical of such, so even when a film hits the notes in a satisfactory (if average) manner, we can’t help but truly look at all the missed opportunities throughout. Role Play by no means is a bad film, we’ve just seen it done before (and better), and the collective talent on hand are evidently capable that the punches thrown here don’t land as strongly as they could. Regardless, Cuoco’s post-Big Bang career choices continue to excite (The Flight Attendant, anyone?) and she handles herself as an action heroine in a far stronger degree than people may expect.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Role Play is streaming on Prime Video from January 12th, 2024.