2012-12-13 / Arts & Entertainment News

‘Playing for Keeps’

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Of all the great mysteries of Hollywood, Gerard Butler’s appeal is chief among them. Granted, he’s confident, has an accent, can sing and had nice painted on abs in “300,” but none of that can forgive the fact that he always looks like he needs a shower.

This is particularly salient in “Playing for Keeps,” in which Mr. Butler plays a washed up, broke, former soccer pro living in Virginia. George coaches his son Lewis’ (Noah Lomax) youth soccer team, which makes sense, but George doesn’t expect the onslaught of desperate soccer moms beating down his door. Lucky for him, they’re all attractive:

Barb (Judy Greer, excellent) is looking to get back in the dating game; former broadcaster Denise (Catherine Zeta-Jones) offers to help George move his aspiring sportscaster career forward; and Patti (Uma Thurman) wants revenge on her wealthy, business-oriented husband Carl (Dennis Quaid, stealing every scene he’s in), whom she knows sleeps around.

If this were an upbeat, playful and zany comedy in which a swingin’ bachelor fends off the advances of middleaged, sex-crazed soccer moms, they could have had something here. Instead, however, director Gabriele Muccino (“Seven Pounds”) goes the more serious route of focusing on George’s relationship with Lewis — which is admirable, but boring. What’s more, the soccer mom George desires the most, his exwife/ Lewis’ mother Stacie (Jessica Biel), is engaged to nice guy Matt (James Tupper). So we have that subplot to roll our eyes through.

George goes through the motions of making amends for lost time with Lewis, but the story is neither funny nor interesting enough to have a good reason to keep watching.

George is just a normal guy living a normal life. He’s made mistakes and is turning over a new leaf. Good for him. But his redemption story is as bland as they come. There are no major surprises, pi only a few laughs and very little intrigue. When the most amusing characters a wT are George’s landlord (played with perfect comic delivery by Iqbal Theba) and Barb, you know something’s wrong.w

As for Mr. Butler, he has screen presence and a rugged charisma, yet it’s difficult to ascertain why these women would throw themselves at George. On the surface, he’s a neglectful has-been with no money and no job. He’s not bad looking, but he’s also not attractive enough to plausibly be this desired. When the audience doesn’t understand how a character can inspire the prurient needs of the female cast, the whole premise becomes a lost cause (e.g., “Twilight”).

“Playing for Keeps” is feel-good family fluff at its nauseating worst. Robbie Fox’s script is so cliché-driven that it even ends with “the big championship game” — even though very little time is spent with the team and it makes no damn difference if they win or lose.

Basically, don’t bother playing. The less time you spend with this movie, the better. ¦

>> “Playing for Keeps” was shot on location in Shreveport, La., from April 4-May 27,
2011, and had an estimated budget of $35
million.

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