Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Scene, Act, Repeat...Scene, Act, Repeat...: "Caught in the Game" (2009)

This film is an exercise in frustration. An attractive cast, an indy budget, good music, competent direction, yet I never could get caught up in this game.

Lisa (Amanda Dee) is a real estate hustler. She brokers shady deals for her drug dealer boyfriend Todd (Cordell Rainey), under the unsuspecting nose of her boss, Goldstein (Guy Nardulli). Lisa also has a love/hate relationship with two coworkers/friends, the impulsive Eve (Nikka Ischelle) and the woman who brought Lisa and Todd together- Angie (Janet Williams).

Todd stays out on the streets for days at a time, but pays for Lisa to live in the lap of luxury as long as she keeps using her deals to launder his drug money. Everything changes when new janitor Joshua (Simeon Henderson) starts at Goldstein's real estate office. Although cold at first, Joshua gets under Lisa's skin. He's a romantic who falls hard for Lisa, who was tiring of Todd and his ignoring ways. As Lisa and Joshua grow closer, Lisa's criminal work gets sloppy. She needs Todd for his money, needs Joshua for his love, and she is having a difficult time deciding between the two. The film's title does have a double meaning. Lisa is not only caught in the fraudulent game, but also the game of love. Watching the characters, you would think her choice would be crystal clear, but writer/director Michael Merrill throws in a twist ending that will leave you with lots of questions and little closure.

The film clocks in at almost an hour and fifty minutes, and is in desperate need of some trimming and tightening. Merrill writes scene after scene of dialogue that covers facts we already know, and then beats this proverbial dead horse to death time and time again. The viewer is overcome with deja vu as Lisa and Todd have the exact same fight (he can't answer the phone when he's out hustling) constantly. Eve and Angie thankfully become more than just disposable best friend characters, until both start parroting themselves from scene to scene, repeating the same warnings to Lisa and Todd about their respective illicit liaisons. This repetition is maddening!

On the positive side, the cast is outstanding. Even Todd gets some sympathy here and there, despite being a despicable character. Henderson as Joshua is so likable, you hope he gets Lisa right away. Dee is good and sexy as Lisa, although some of her character's choices will drive you nuts. I did catch an errant boom microphone here and there, and Merrill relies on interiors way too much, but other than some technical glitches his direction is comfortable. I am not a fan of hip-hop, but the music is also a plus here.

I have seen worse films, but "Caught in the Game" is still a disappointment. The running time feels padded, and after a while even the willing cast could not save it. To use a completely inappropriate sports metaphor, "Caught in the Game" quickly heads into overtime, when it should have been called much earlier. (* * *) out of five stars.