out of Five
Running time: 105
Contrived and unconvincing, Playing for Keeps is yet another nauseatingly poor and badly-scripted Gerard Butler rom-com, which sadly wastes its star-studded cast and has very little to offer in the way of laughs and touching moments.
What’s it all about?
Directed by Gabriele Muccino, Playing for Keeps stars Gerard Butler as George, a down-on-his-luck former football (or soccer) player, who’s returned to Virginia to try and patch things up with his nine year old son, Lewis (Noah Lomax) and his estranged wife, Stacie (Jessica Biel), who’s about to marry her cookie-cutter fiancé Matt (James Tupper).
When George notices his son’s football coach is a little neglectful during training, he steps in to become the new coach, in the hope his efforts will help to get his life back on track. But when the attractive ‘soccer moms’ (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman and Judy Greer) start throwing themselves at him wherever he goes, George’s attempts to get his life back together and form an amicable relationship with Lewis and Stacie become jeopardised.
From the opening scene, which features terribly superimposed shots of a young George on the pitch back in the day, to the gruesomely contrived finale, everything about Playing for Keeps is incredibly difficult to swallow and to get involved with. The script, whilst not laughably bad, lacks humour and polish and fails to develop its leading characters enough to make us care about them and George, in particular, is incredibly unlikeable. There are also some minor but noticeable plot holes and the film’s patchy tone is hard to endure.
What’s perhaps most difficult to understand about Playing for Keeps is why so many famous faces agreed to put their name to it, as so much talent is sadly wasted and underused. In fairness, Dennis Quaid has something to play with and is actually passable and mildly entertaining as the controlling soccer dad, Carl, and Judy Greer’s trademark shrill awkwardness adds a welcome dose of spark to the very few scenes she’s in. Uma Thurman, however, is sadly wasted as Patti, the lonely and frustrated housewife of Carl, and Jessica Biel’s decent performance is overlooked thanks to her nauseatingly 2D character, Stacie.
Finally, Gerard Butler (who also produces), is as wooden as usual, wasting another chance at proving his mettle and Catherine Zeta-Jones generally just goes through the motions as the desperately flirty Denise, who tries to give George his next big break at ESPN in exchange for something more.
An embarrassingly bad rom-com to add to Gerard Butler’s CV, Playing for Keeps will make you laugh, cry and cringe for all the wrong reasons. One to avoid.