A Not-Half-Bad Premise Goes All Wrong in "Playing for Keeps"

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 7, 2012

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Gerard Butler stars in "Playing for Keeps."

There’s actually a half-decent idea for a movie buried somewhere in this maudlin slog of a romantic comedy starring the charmless Gerard Butler. The tousle-haired Scotsman plays a washed up former soccer star, recently relocated to a Virginia suburb in an ill-considered attempt to re-unite with his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) and finally start acting like a father to his estranged nine-year-old son.

A couple of plot contrivances later, Butler ends up coaching his kid’s soccer team, but the movie has little interest in the game or the children. The lone funny conceit in Playing for Keeps is that our handsome new coach unwittingly becomes a pussy magnet for single moms. It starts with Judy Greer throwing herself at him, sexually insatiable on the rare occasions she isn’t crying about her divorce.  Then along comes Catherine Zeta Jones, almost unrecognizable beneath all the digital airbrushing, pulling strings at a local TV station to jump-start the coach’s sportscasting career and beckoning him into the bedroom. Equally voracious is Uma Thurman, as the aging trophy wife of the community’s Ferrari-driving rich jerk (a feeble Dennis Quaid, whose idea of broad comedy seems to be acting like he’s just had a stroke.)

There’s enough raw material for an adult farce in Playing for Keeps to make one wonder what a director like Blake Edwards might have done with it. Alas, we’re stuck in the hands of Gabriele Muccino—who most recently helmed Seven Pounds, the risible Will Smith suicide-by-jellyfish melodrama—so most of the movie is just Butler humorlessly pining away for his ex-wife and desperately begging her not to get remarried. Someone maybe should have told this guy if you want to rekindle a romance with a woman, you probably shouldn’t start by sleeping with all her friends.

Biel really goes to work here, crying her eyes out all the time in a role she’s at least 10 years too young to play. Butler’s appeal continues to mystify me; the marble mouthed lummox draws women like flies without ever being charismatic or even remotely interesting. Meanwhile, the movie ignores the kids’ soccer team for such a long stretch that when somebody belatedly mentions they might win the championship, the screening audience laughed out loud.

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