two can play that game(2001)
director: mark brown
vivica a. fox, morris chestnut, anthony anderson

. Seconds into the new “urban romantic comedy” Two Can Play That Game, Shante, the heroine breaks the “fourth wall” of movie logic and directly addresses the camera, letting us know that she’s a “sistah”. Vivica A. Fox, as Shante, is certainly that; a well-groomed, well-paid, church-going, trash-talking righteous babe who, along with most of her friends and her devoted boyfriend Keith (Morris Chestnut), represents the young, aspirant, black middle class, rising through professions like advertising by telling white companies how to sell to black markets.

It’s in black markets that a film like Mark Brown’s Two Can Play That Game will find its home, drawing as it does on the Baptist church at key moments, such as when Keith needs advice from his buddy Tony, a wiseass motormouth played by Anthony Anderson who steals every scene he inhabits. Keith needs advice since -- as a man, therefore a dog -- he’s been caught out in a minor indiscretion by Shante and, by the laws of sistahhood, must be punished. 

Shante has a ten-day programming for keeping errant males in line, one that involves a pre-emptive break-up, phone silence, strategic flirtations to stoke jealousy, and a final attack on the weakened male libido that should draw him back again, never to stray. Full of strict laws and subsidiary rules, it’s a sistah’s version of the notorious “The Rules”, those recently discredited guidelines for snagging a man by feigning demure submissiveness and ladylike propriety.

Shante’s support group is a group of girlfriends, all of whom are saddled with deadweight men, whose scenes together spiral into hysterically baroque iterations of “you go, girl!” Her program, however, is contingent upon never letting her friends know the truth of her desparation and lack of control, and at times seems as harsh and Macchiavellian. This is the key to this brisk, rueful romantic comedy’s truth; Shante’s sole responsibility is to a perfected version of herself, ambitious and fabulous, and “keeping it real” is in fact a lonely, tense mission upwards that can’t suffer the burden of sistah, man, or dog.