Review: Don’t ‘Play for Keeps’

A star-studded cast and a good concept add up to less than nothing in Playing for Keeps, an attempt at a warm, family romantic comedy that, like the main character, succumbs to its vices.

Gerard Butler plays George, a former UK soccer great sidelined by injuries and age. Broke, alone, and rudderless, he comes into the town occupied by his his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel) and young son Lewis (an adorable Noah Lomax). In an attempt to connect with his son, he reluctantly agrees to coach his youth league soccer team.

Only problem?

The team is riddled with soccer moms, from the rawly emotionally destitute divorcee (Judy Greer), the psycho sex bomb (Uma Thurman) and the self-assured cougar (Catherine Zeta Jones). All of them want a piece of the hot soccer coach.

And by piece, I mean that in the most sexual way possible.

It’s a wonder he has any time for coaching soccer.

This, of course, is the point. George has always been distracted by the beautiful females who constantly throw themselves into his bed. Will he grow up and be the dad his son needs him to be?

While this is a good starting point, the film gets bogged down in sexual trysts that should be funny but aren’t. Judy Greer is the one bright spot. She first came on the scene in the now-defunct TV show Arrested Development as Michael Bluth’s unhinged assistant (“Say goodbye to THESE, Michael!”) and later wowed us in last year’s The Descendants. She is pitch perfect here as a recently separated mom given to emotional meltdowns on the soccer field and solicits the only laughs from the movie. If there were any justice in the world, she would be getting leading roles.

However, between them, Uma Thurman and Catherine Zeta Jones must have kept several Beverly Hills plastic surgeons in Ferrari. Thurman, in particular, is almost unrecognizable. I spent the film unsure if it were really her or just someone who kind of looks like her. Their characters spring fully formed from nowhere, have little depth beyond a sexually-aggressive minx, and disappear from the script just as abruptly.

The script-writer objectifies and uses them as much as George does.

George is the real problem, however. After nominal resistance, presumably because we’re to believe he’s a good guy underneath, he regularly succumbs to the attentions of these females. The film gets bogged down in its second wayward path: The revival of the romance between George and his now-engaged ex. Then, in a twist, the ex discovers the one woman he did not sleep with rather than the several he did. So George is somehow both guilty and an innocent wrongfully accused.

It all feels manipulated and forced and not at all interesting.

George, in theory, has a change of heart that means everything. But by the time that change comes it feels so flat and irrelevant to all that went on before, it trivializes the very message the movie is trying to send. It rushes on to an ending so forced that it sets the viewer’s teeth on edge. Like George, it forgets the heart of the film, which is his relationship with Lewis.

Skip Playing for Keeps. George needs to grow up and this movie needs to be forgotten.

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