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.