The minor miracle of Playing God is that it somewhat works despite its obviously stupid conceit.
One would be forgiven for mistaking the new con artist dramedy Playing God for yet another Conservative-leaning, faith-based project from the PureFlix assembly line, home of the godforsaken God’s Not Dead series. But even though writer-director Scott Brignac brings the Big Guy himself into the proceedings here, he has no explicit interest in plumbing the depths of modern-day faith or religion. Instead, Playing God busies itself with the low-level illegal activities of its central protagonists, twin siblings Rachel (Hannah Kasulka) and Micah (Luke Benward). Don’t let the biblical names fool you, though, as the two impeccably-dressed and drool-worthy twenty-somethings are actually grifters who swindle anyone who crosses their path; scruples are in notably short supply when you scam pregnant newlyweds with a bogus “Help an Orphaned Child in Need” program. Forced to pay back thousands of dollars to a violent businessman who puts them on a strict two-week deadline, the bro-sis duo set their sights on Ben (Alan Tudyk), a wealthy entrepreneur on a spiritual quest after the tragic death of his young daughter. The plan: the pair will pose as human angels, working for God himself, who has come to Earth to help Ben in his time of need. In the process, they will locate the safe within his mansion and rob Ben blind, as the man is notoriously “unbanked.” Meanwhile, Michael McKean plays Frank, a.k.a. God, a roller rink proprietor and criminal mentor to Rachel and Micah who sees nothing but dollar signs, so long as he doesn’t let the role go to his head.
It goes without saying that Playing God is deeply stupid in conception, boasting a plot that makes no sense within the context of anything resembling the “real world.” And yet, Tudyk delivers a performance of stunning emotional heft, one that completely sells his character’s desperate plumbing of the unanswerable. Rawness, anger, and vulnerability are legitimately felt in Ben’s character, entirely unexpected yet wholly necessary in order for any of this material to emotionally resonate with its audience. Tudyk gets a nice assist from Kasulka, who brings a hard-edged fragility to her otherwise stock character, while McKean remains a pleasure to watch, even if he doesn’t have much to do here. And like any good con game, Playing God has a twist up its sleeve, but one that here renders the proceedings far more treacly than necessary, even if it introduces a thematic wrinkle that isn’t entirely unwelcome. Ultimately, though, Playing God is a tale of fathers: the good ones, the bad ones, and the absent ones. That this is wrapped within a tale concerning the holiest of fathers Himself is certainly a clever maneuver, if not a bit too obvious. Brignac clearly means well, even as his flawed film stumbles more than a few times, especially when it comes to the whiplash-inducing characterization of Micah. But as the end credits roll, if the tiniest of lumps forms in your throat, just chalk it up to a small miracle, the kind that elevates an otherwise mediocre film on strength of its landing.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | August 2021.