Don’t let the poster or DVD cover of Played fool you; in the actual movie, Val Kilmer, Gabriel Byrne and Anthony LaPaglia each show up for about one whole minute, if that. I know it’s not exactly a treat, but considering the failure that is Played, making these brief appearances was probably the best way for these high-profile actors to avoid trouble. The film could have easily done to them what Catwoman did to Halle Berry, which is tearing a fabulous career.
The plot first introduces us to Brice (Vinne Jones), a dirty cop who rules the London underworld and desires to expand his empire by stealing a heavy load of heroin confiscated by the local police. So, he hires a small-time crook named Ray Burns (writer-producer Mick Rossi), who gathers some of his friends and puts the plan in motion. Alas, the heist goes awry, one of Ray’s buddies dies, and Ray ends up spending eight years behind bars. After his release he heads out to settle the score right, but what he doesn’t know is that while he’s planning to bring down Brice and his partners, Ray has become a hot target himself.
In a nutshell, Played sounds good as long as you don’t watch it. I could easily come up with a whole list of aspects that don’t work at all in the film, but the worst, in my opinion, is Mick Rossi’s sloppy and superficial writing. I understand the filmmakers only had about $370,000 to play with, but a solid story takes nothing but paper, a pen and some creativity, which usually comes free. Instead of compiling an intriguing gangster story with captivating characters, Rossi spun a web of implausible twists and personages nobody really cares about. In doing so, he also forgot to supply his script with any sort of thematic. The plot goes nowhere from the start and ends with one of the shallowest showdowns I have ever encountered. Why does it take him 87 dragging minutes to get to this conclusion? Why so complicated? No one knows, and frankly no one gives a hoot.
As Rossi mentions in the making-of, the dialog in Played was 80% improvised, which gave the cast plenty of freedom to utilize their talent and come up with their own lines. The problem is, none of the actors succeeded in doing so. The improv is obvious all throughout, most of the talks sound and look fake, and all they do is drop the F-bomb in, let’s say, every sentence. Sean Stanek’s cinematography and direction look cheap and amateurish as well, and Matthew Booth’s editing is an annoying mixture of quick cuts and misplaced fade-outs. Rossi even admitted he saved some money by shooting some scenes himself, at night and without a production crew, and I gotta tell you, I believe him.
As I mentioned before, Kilmer, Byrne and LaPaglia barely made it into the final cut, so they don’t really qualify for my cast analysis. Okay, Kilmer delivers a bizarre monologue about “not going taco” early on in the movie, but it ends up being more nonsensical than amusing. The rest of the cast, including a disappointing Vinnie Jones and Bruno Kirby, offer empty performances that lack credibility and confidence. It may be hard to believe, but Mick Rossi is the only one doing a satisfying job in front of the camera. He obviously sucks as a screenwriter and producer, but he surprisingly manages to build the only character the audience may tolerate. On the other hand, we don’t have much choice now do we?
If Played fails on so many levels, it succeeds at least in showing us that movies don’t always serve as a glorious way of entertainment. Played was a lost cause even before it headed into production, and I am still scratching my head over how a script this bad could draw a budget. There are so many projects out there on the market that see the bottom of a trash can before even being read by a producer or studio executive, but I am convinced that some of those are way more innovative than Played. Life is unfair, isn’t it?
Trust me on this one; Played on DVD is not what you want to spend your free time with, unless you got a lot of it to waste. If you generally appreciate the art of filmmaking and value the greatness of the good old digital videodisc and its large capacity for bonus material, you’ll quickly understand why. Instead of using their limited budget more wisely, the filmmakers generated some crappy special features that match the overall disappointing quality of the feature film.
Besides a lingering gallery of restricted trailers showcasing Lionsgate’s latest low-budget releases, the bonus material also comprises a bland 12-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, in which writer-producer Mick Rossi talks about the different circumstances under which the production got underway. Also featured are select cast members, who introduce us to their characters and keep bragging about how cool it is to improvise dialog. This may sound pretty exciting at first, but if you have to listen to the same stuff over and over, the fun quickly mutates into despair.
This leads me to the audio commentary by Mick Rossi, the second and last extra on the disc. The main problem with this piece is Rossi’s unceasing repetition of what he already covers in the making-of. He once again introduces all of his actors and their characters, tells us how he got them to join the project and adds very little detail about the shooting in general. Oh, and did I mention that he keeps on talking about how fantastic it is that 80% of the dialog was improvised? Duh!
By and large, the few special features on this disc do even more damage to Played than good. Instead of convincing us of the possible existence of at least one positive aspect about this feature, the bonus material is structured the same way as the movie itself, which is amateurish, careless and, well…improvised. Sorry Val Kilmer, but I’m gonna taco on this one!