Directed by Leon Herbert. UK. 2003.

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Independent cinema has a crucial role to play in the building and sustaining of a British Film Industry - predominantly because an organised film industry (such as could ever hope to rival Hollywood, or Bollywood) does not exist here in the UK. So, when a group of inspired young Brits take it on themselves to produce (and then get national distribution for) homegrown talent, one is obliged to support their endeavours. And one seems more willing to gloss-over minor faults and focus decisively on any positives. You lean forward eagerly in your seat and urge the film on to greatness. And I approached Emotional Backgammon with these hopes and preparedness. But, ultimately, a film might not measure up, whether it's a low budget, independent production or a Hollywood megabuck blockbuster. Unfortunately, Emotional Backgammon does not measure-up to our hopes or expectations.

Itís not that there isnít some admirable work here for there is. A largely black cast, which portrays unabashed ethnicity, is fresh and welcome. The idea of the movie is almost clever with a few good twists along the way. The plot (such as it is) is a modern, ethnic take on the age-old shenanigans of love and gender wars. Indeed, here, the Ďgame of loveí is stressed as a strategic interplay between men and women: hence the title. Unfortunately, despite a clever concept of likening relationship manipulation to a mentally challenging game of backgammon, it is overstated and where subtlety would inspire, overkill drowns out any notion of ingenuity.

The story is somewhat lightweight and yet convoluted. Our narrator for the film, Steve Smith, attempts to use strange logic and gamesmanship to ensure that his mate, John, wins back his girlfriend, Mary. Unknown to him, however, Maryís friend, Jane, manipulates from the girl sidelines. With numerous references to Shakespeareís The Taming of the Shrew, the tale is told of how men and women play at the artifice of love but with none of the Bardís subtlety or insight. (Watch out for the Ďoh-so-cleverí pun on The Taming of the Shrewd. The first use just about raised a smile, why oh why did they see fit to keep repeating it?)

The editorial techniques of intercutting the influence-wielding friends with the playing of a game of backgammon works well visually. It is completely overused but the stylised shots offer some stimulation amongst some otherwise unremarkable photography. (Did I really see two completely blurred, out of focus scenes in this film? Can I in any way be generous and call it Ďartí?) The plot spirals out of control and delivers a jilted groom, animalistic lust, a homosexual shocker, unplanned pregnancy and a murder - and thatís not even the end!

This film suffers in that itís a dialogue driven piece whose dialogue just isnít up to it. There are a couple of witty one-liners and one or two pithy exchanges but itís not enough to lift the movie above a mediocre, relatively unfunny and unsophisticated look at the quagmire of male / female relationships. The screenplay (by Leon Herbert and Matthew Hope) doesnít deliver. Neither does Herbertís direction or acting. Only Wil Johnson stands out in the role of leading man in a cast who turn in lacklustre performances. One saving grace is the good soundtrack but it alone cannot rescue this film.

Emotional Backgammon had an intriguing concept and the potential to be a novel and inspiring movie. On paper, it had all the hallmarks of an Independent classic but it isnít and all the best will in the world cannot change that.

Angela Swift
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