Mean streets and Wall Street
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, May 11, 2012
The message of "Changing the Game" couldn't be more obvious if it were printed on a billboard: Whether played on Wall Street or on the mean streets, the game might change, but the rules are still the same.
In other words, it's every man for himself.
The movie is set up as a contrast between the fates of two childhood friends from inner-city Philadelphia. Dre (Dennis L.A. White) grows up to become a drug dealer, while Darrell (Sean Riggs) uses his brain to escape the mean streets for a career on Wall Street and as a money launderer for an Arab sheik (Munir Kreidie, channeling Dracula).
Writer-director Rel Dowdell gets this point across by contrasting not only two men, but two books. For Darrell, it's initially the Bible his grandmother (Irma P. Hall) reads to him as a child, including her favorite verse: "It is better to trust in the Lord than put confidence in men." For Dre, it's Machiavelli's "The Prince," whose principles of moral expediency Darrell adopts all too readily after his friend gives him a dog-eared copy.
Like a how-to film, "Changing the Game" alternates between portentous voice-over narration from Machiavelli's treatise and a parade of episodes illustrating its concepts of strategic deception, brutality and the willingness to separate personal from political morality. It's pretty clear which book the film would have you believe is the more useful one.
Although Riggs turns in a workmanlike performance, the rest of the cast is weak, with rare exceptions. Hall is, as usual, a commanding presence, although her deathbed scene seems to go on forever. More typical is the performance of Tony Todd, the schlock-horror veteran of "Candyman" fame. His brief twin roles - as a grotesquely disfigured pimp in an opening scene and a scenery-chewing FBI agent at the end - set the tone for the entire film. There's a low-budget look and feel to every shot.
More important, however, is that the movie is weighed down by cliches, offering few real surprises other than a bizarre ending that is less twisty than tangled.
"Changing the Game" would have been better served by heeding this advice of Machiavelli's: "Be unpredictable, and thus gain the advantage."
Contains obscenity, violence, drug use, sensuality and partial nudity.