Kaley Cuoco has cornered the unassuming spy market post-“Big Bang Theory,” a direction which may have initially seemed like an odd turn for the actress-producer, but has proven to be her sweet spot. Too bad that sweetness seems to have an expiration date.

Cuoco leads Amazon MGM Studios’ exhausting “Role Play,” which finds itself partly regurgitating a one-sided version of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” coupled with the oft-overlooked Steve Carell and Tina Fey two-hander “Date Night.”

“Role Play” feels like it was made 10 years ago, and we don’t mean that not in a cutesy, nostalgic way: Cuoco stars as spy Emma, who doubles as a suburban wife and mother of two kids. The role repurposes Cuoco’s “Flight Attendant” persona, with the film even opening in an airport as Emma returns home from a “team-building work conference,” AKA killing a target.

David Oyelowo plays Emma’s husband Dave, who remembers their wedding anniversary (Emma, alas, forgot) and finds his biggest plight in life is convincing Emma to “mix things up” sexually by gifting her a “sexy nurse” costume. Ew.

Yet Emma takes things a few steps further and asks Dave to really commit to the bit: She asks that they go to a fancy New York City hotel where they will stage a chance meeting at the bar, with both of them pretending to be strangers. There’s no way that could backfire for her spy career, right? Well, we never said Emma (or Dave, for that matter) were the sharpest couple around.

Emma seamlessly slips into her false identity at the bar, where supposed business associate Bob (Bill Nighy) recognizes her, even incognito. At first, Bob’s incessant compliments and leering demeanor promise to take “Role Play” into “Indecent Proposal” territory, which would have arguably made for a more interesting film. Instead, Nighy’s brief performance as a creepy old man who recognizes Emma and teases that he recently received a large contract, seemingly to kill her, proves to be the highlight of the movie.

Bob overstays his welcome at the bar after Dave joins them, but Emma gives her husband a sleeping pill and confronts her fellow assassin, who proposes a deal: He’ll take a percentage of her commission in exchange for not exposing her identity while a bounty remains on her head. Emma shows her spy prowess by revealing she’s in fact already poisoned Bob, but of course, this encounter kicks off an international cat and mouse game of outrunning her own killers.

“Role Play”

Emma is fighting for her life (literally) while Dave is still in New Jersey getting teary-eyed over not really knowing his wife. It’s the duplicities of marriage, Dave. Get over it. At least Emma’s secret was cool. Sadly, her trek around the world is not: “Role Play” is stripped of all its potential action parts, and instead is downplayed in the most basic (AKA cheap) way possible.

Sure, Dave is interrogated about Bob’s death at the hotel, and yes, there’s a twist about Emma’s family of origin, run by Gwen (Connie Nielsen), intersecting with the domestic life she built for herself. But none of it has any real stakes, bite, or fun.

Director Thomas Vincent plays it safe which, for an action comedy hinging on the sexy fascination of spying, makes for a flaccid film all around, inevitably culminating in a limp shootout. Lead star Cuoco also produces, seemingly to fulfill her vocalized dream of starring in her own whodunit.

Sadly, we already know who murdered Bob and how Emma will resolve everything: She’s a powerhouse businesswoman, mom, wife, and yes, government agent spy. Emma can do it all. The issue is, we really don’t want (or need) her to.

Rating: C-

“Role Play” is now streaming on Prime Video.

Leave a comment