PLAYING FOR KEEPS – The Review
Had to believe that only six years ago the graphic novel film adaptation 300 burst on to movie screens featuring ground-breaking CGI effects and a bravado charismatic performance by a generally unknown actor as the fearless King Leonidas: Gerard Butler. Aside from a great vocal performance in the terrific animated feature HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, Hollywood has not known what to do with this handsome Scott. There’s been a few thrillers like LAW ABIDING CITIZEN, but generally he’s been consigned to “rom-com” Hell, sometimes paired with other denizens of that genre such as Katherine Heigl and Jennifer Aniston. Just a few weeks after the family flick CHASING MAVERICKS, Butler’s back in that pit once more with PLAYING FOR KEEPS. Hmm, this one’s got an Oscar-winning actress in the mix. Maybe this will be the one to show off his acting chops rather than just his scruffy good looks.
Butler plays George, a Scottish soccer superstar well past his prime. After squandering most of his sports earnings he moves to a rental guest house in Virginia. There he can re-connect with the ten-year old son Lewis (Noah Lomax) from his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel), while he tries to become a TV sports analyst. George takes his son to soccer practice and is dismayed by his clueless, distracted coach. The former star steps in to give the team a few pointers. He’s soon lured by a “soccer dad”, the very rich Carl (Dennis Quaid), to take over as coach. Now George must end his son’s team’s losing streak while fending off the advances of Carl’s neglected wife Patti (Uma Thurman) and divorced “soccer moms” Denise (Catherine Zeta Jones) and Barb (Judy Greer). At least he’s finally bonding with his son, but now Stacie’s about to get re-married! Is there a chance that he can turn things around for the team and his family?
Really, is there any doubt where this fluff is heading? At least Butler doesn’t have to strain at another American accent (usually screaming out of one side of his mouth). He’s playing another variation of the man-child who becomes a responsible adult thanks to the love of an adorable tot and an extremely patient woman. At least the ladies are treated to a couple of sans shirt scenes. Speaking of ladies, the actresses here are ill-served by this weak script. The radiantly beautiful Biel is made to look frumpy for most of the flick (Butler’s tousled locks are given more attention than her glowing mane). She’s icy to her ex at first, but that dad-son bonding melts her heart, of course. On the other hand, the maternal temptresses always look like they were just touched up by their personal stylists. After picking up her CHICAGO Oscar, Jones has not had any film roles that have showcased her considerable talents. This role is a bit of an improvement over the wild-eyed shrew in ROCK OF AGES. When Butler’s immune to her sultry smiles she offers herself to groom him for ESPN. Here’s hoping next year’s BROKEN CITY is more worthy of her time. Still, she fares better than Thurman as a desperate housewife on the prowl. At one point she’s bemoaning her hubby’s infidelity, then next moment she’s rolling around on George’s bed in skimpy black lingerie (perhaps to prove she’s got her pre-baby bod back). Maybe Quentin can get her back in the bright yellow track suit soon. The other steamy suburbanite is played by the delightful comic actress, Greer, who is the film’s only bright spot (I’ll add a star just for her way too short scenes). She’s deserving of her own screen showcase. After playing the third pompous movie jerk in a row (after THE WORDS and WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING), I’m happy that Quaid has scored a hit TV series (“Vegas”). If this is what the big screen is offering him, then the small screen can provide much better vehicles. I guess the same can be said for all those involved with this effort.
The actors are certainly not helped by the odd directorial choices from Gabriele Muccino. He overuses the steadycam to the point of nausea. It’s a dialogue scene in a kitchen! Lock that camera down! It’s not edgy, it’s distracting! Same shakiness for the scenes of the soccer team saying inappropriate lines, but it’s so adorably cute. At least we can be safe to say that PLAYING FOR KEEPS is the last dismal dreary rom-com of the year. I wonder if there are cinema penalty cards?
1.5 Out of 5