A Man Tries to Escape the Mean Streets of Philly in "Changing the Game"

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 7 | Posted May. 8, 2012

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Sean Riggs stars in "Changing the Game"

Grade: C

There are two books ritualistically quoted in the twisty, low-budget ghetto thriller Changing the Game : the Bible and Machiavelli’s The Prince. These twin tomes would seem to offer contradictory life paths: one, a holy direction toward goodness and salvation; the other, a coldly practical avenue that rewards conniving selfishness. Rel Dowdell’s ramshackle sophomore feature (after 2000’s rohypnol saga Train Ride) combines them into one master ethos anyway, with a protagonist who, once he belatedly realizes his true potential, slyly plays multiple cretins against one another so that he can be reborn a man of God. If the destination is one of purity, it appears, it doesn’t matter how one gets there.

The intellectual sloppiness at least fits the rest of the film, another indie trying to live well outside its budgetary limitations. The tale spins on the actualization of Darrell Barnes (Sean Riggs), a North Philadelphian who escapes the mean streets by chasing a Wharton MBA into a star job at a dubious firm—in essence, trading one dangerous existence for another. This doesn’t escape his loving grandmother, played by Irma P. Hall, on hand to browbeat her child (and the audience) with godly words. Tony Todd, the mega-ham best known for Candyman, is the film’s other recognizable thespian, given free rein to weird up a stiff production as both an amusingly smug FBI agent and a hooker-beating pimp who rants about dogs pissing on blood stains and other nonsequiturs you’ll want to jot down.

One doesn’t want to be too hard on a genuine independent picture, particularly one that pays lip service to the vagaries of low income urban life. Changing the Game means well, even taking into consideration its dubious debt toward Machiavelli. Likewise, it doesn’t entirely matter that the acting (save Hall and Todd) ranges from weak to over-the-top, that its filmmaking is amateurish, that its period detail (the setting is the 1980s, pointlessly) is dodgy or that its attempts to do Thailand in Philly are at least worth a chuckle. Although, when there’s little else to make up for these defects, they do matter a bit.

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1. Howard James said... on May 11, 2012 at 07:29AM

“Mr. Prigge, as usual with his reviews, is way off the mark with his short-sighted and cavernous review of this film. I was there at the screening for this film last Friday at the Art Museum and saw the audience go on a complete emotional journey with this involving and engrossing tale. Sadly, often times, film critics of other races don't give African-American films and filmmakers their just due, even when their projects succeed with scope, ambition, and highly competent filmmaking. You would be hard-pressed to find a better, more univerally satisfying, and consummate film such as this one.”

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2. Janice Hauser said... on May 23, 2012 at 06:40PM

“I saw this film yesterday and absolutely loved it. I felt every emotion during its viewing. Mr. Prigge's review is reprehensible, and it's obvious that he is not equipped to review a film with multicultural characters, themes, and storylines. This film was as good and accomplished as any studio release that I've seen in recent memory, which is a testament to the filmmaker's superb and supremely ambitious skill level.. In addition, Mr. Prigge completely botched the nuances of Tony Todd's character and what he truly represented. You have to know the Bible in order to know about the things his character said. There should be a instructional session for critics to equip them to review films that represent the experience of minorities in America like this one did so wonderfully and poignantly. This film is one that will stand the test of time, and the performances of Irma P. Hall and newcomer Sean Riggs are beyond memorable and simply peerless.”

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3. Robert Bennett said... on May 25, 2012 at 02:18PM

“I know Matt Prigge personally. Even though he rides a bike and pretends to be frugal, he has absolutely no knowledge of life in the inner city or has any conscientiousness about the plights and struggles and conflicts of minorities in this country. For him to review a film that expertly encompasses all of the aforementioned was a joke for, and on, The Philadelphia Weekly publication. This film is the most accomplished and emotionally driven independent that I've ever seen. I've seen it twice already. It has something valuable that can be taken away for anyone who sees this film. The principles, themes, and messages this film stands so firmly on could not be better intertwined into the film than even the best of filmmakers could try to pull off. The production value is high and so is the overall quality of this film, Go see it and be inspired!”

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4. Tiffany Morganti said... on Jun 3, 2012 at 08:08AM

“There was another actor that I recognized In the movie Raw Leiba whom Ive seen on Persons of Interest with Jim Caviezal,The Wire countless other shows and even some fitness publications,saw him on the scene on the boat (and I must say a very memorable scene for me..yummy)
and that was it,why not take advantage of that star power,if you've got talent onboard like that it should have be utilized,But then why did Leiba take the role?..and Tony Todd?..Good actors shouldn't associate themselves with bad projects,seek your agents advice guys.”

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5. Marcus said... on Jun 6, 2012 at 07:40AM

“Well I saw this film in New Jersey and this obviously goes to the producers not doing there homework on international sales,with all the MARVEL news coming out and all his foreign films Leiba's DBI indicates he has 60 million fans in Brazil alone,and many more in Latin America , Germany and Africa so a bigger role would have helped there ,Tony Todd is a great cast for the genre audience,but why not go with 50 Cent (in place of Sticky Fingers) or somebody like that for the young rap audience..I worked at a marketing research firm that handled stuff like this..too many producers dont do there research..International sales and presales are important they have firms that handle these things.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Nov 6, 2012 at 09:48AM

“This movie is terrible trust me,Dowdell must of had his friends write good user reviews cause this is easily the worst movie ive ever seen,I got it from Walmart and they wouldnt take it back..whomever funded this film will not see there money back. I had to read the cover again to make sure it wasnt a black comedy.”

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7. Gerry said... on Mar 28, 2013 at 12:59PM

“I was a small investor in this film. I have yet to receive a check. It does not seem to have been embraced by the black community at large. I think It had limited appeal with a worn-out Wall Street theme & was simply not seen by a broad enough audience. Movie theatres across the country have been shutting down and the 'golden age of Hollywood' is long gone. I agree with Marcus - you have to go international to survive. I think Rel Dowdell is talented but needs to be making films about people in general. It took 7-8 yrs to obtain financing which shows a lack of interest to risk funds for such a narrowly focused audience. When I read the over-the-top phrase 'supremely intelligent' in the trailer text, I knew I was in trouble. Using the simpler phrase 'over-achiever' would have been a better choice. Simple things like that matter. Overall the characters portrayed in this film were, unfortunately, actually smarter than its producers.”

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