Playing For Keeps

Directed by: Gabriele Muccino

Starring: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer and Dennis Quaid

I have a confession—I have had a little crush on Gerard Butler since Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life.  (Don’t judge me—for seeing Cradle of Life or liking Butler).  In any event, after his star turn in the blockbuster 300, Butler has starred in a string of forgettable films, leaning towards the romantic comedy genre.  I understand the appeal—he’s a charming, sexy bad boy with a Scottish brogue.  Who wouldn’t want to tame him? Theoretically, it should work.  Yet, his film choices have just been ho hum.  Playing For Keeps is another film to add to the list of unimpressive Butler films.

Playing For Keeps tells the story of George Dwyer (Gerard Butler), a retired professional soccer player.  His professional life is in shambles as he never transitioned to a successful career post-soccer.  After dabbling in sports bars and real estate, George has decided to try his hand at sportscasting.  However, he is having a little trouble breaking into the industry and he’s flat broke.  He cannot even sell his old soccer treasures to make ends meet because soccer memorabilia is not quite as popular in the States as it is around the rest of the world. To make matters worse, George’s personal life is in disarray as well. His ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel) is about to re-marry, and George has a rocky relationship with his 9 year-old son, Lewis (Noah Lomax).

George decides to try to rebuild his relationship with his son.  He begins to coach Lewis’s little league soccer team much to the delight of all of Virginia’s suburban soccer moms. The local mom’s, Denise (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Barb (Judy Greer), and Patti (Uma Thurman), all vie for his affection; and local rich douchebag Carl (Dennis Quaid) tries to buy George’s friendship.  George, meanwhile, struggles to win back his son, and his old love Stacie.  When he gets a big job at ESPN, however, he has to decide between his family and a new career.

Where to begin? As an initial matter, Playing For Keeps made the classic mistake of revealing every decent scene in the movie in the film’s trailer.  All of the key plot points and scenes were shown in the trailer. As a result, the film was incredibly predictable and uneventful.  If you have seen the film’s trailer, then you have pretty much seen the film. 

To compound matters, Butler and Biel do not have a lot of chemistry.  Most of the film, Butler is dodging other women and Biel is looking out the window of her house and standing next to her incredibly boring fiance.  Because we do not see Biel and Butler interacting one on one through most of the film, I couldn't get invested in wanting to see the couple reunited--nor did I see any particular spark between the two actors.

In addition, the one-dimensional side characters are troubling.  The trio of horny soccer moms: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman and Judy Greer are unbelievably annoying.  Greer and Thurman are the worst.  Greer is weepy and pathetic.  Thurman, who I usually enjoy, played an uninteresting character and frankly overacted.  While I understand becoming flustered over a good-looking man, the depiction of these women was simply ridiculous.  In addition, Dennis Quaid’s obnoxious wealthy businessman does not add anything to the story and he just oozes sleaze every time he appears on screen.  It is quite frankly a shame that actors of this caliber were so poorly utilized.

I have to give Playing For Keeps a wasted rating.  The predictable plot, bad acting, uninteresting dialogue and slow pace make this film simply unbearable.  If you want to see a good film with soccer as the backdrop, try Bend It Like Beckham, Shaolin Soccer or Kicking and Screaming.  Have a shot of Scottish whisky if you are brave enough to watch Playing For Keeps.