Playing For Keeps

By James Jay Edwards
Released: December 7, 2012
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Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Dennis Quaid star in Playing For Keeps, a romantic comedy about a charming, down-on-his luck former soccer star (Butler) who returns home to put his life back together. Looking for a way to rebuild his relationship with his son, he gets roped into coaching the boy's soccer team. But his attempts to finally become an "adult" are met with hilarious challenges from the attractive "soccer moms" who pursue him at every turn.
Film Review
In Playing for Keeps, Gerard Butler (Machine Gun Preacher) is George Dryer, an ex-professional soccer player who relocates to Virginia to reconnect with his son, Lewis (Noah Lomax from next year's Safe Haven), and ex-wife, Stacie (Hitchcock's Jessica Biel). Once George sees the ineptitude of Lewis' soccer coach, he spots his chance to share the one thing that he can do well with his son and takes over the team. The kids love him, and he teaches them a lot about the game and makes them better players. The parents also love him - especially the women - and get a kick out of the fact that a big celebrity is their kids' soccer coach. George spends his time between practices and games dodging - and sometimes giving in to - advances from the soccer moms. All he wants, however, is to win back the trust of his son and the love of his ex-wife.

Playing for Keeps is just as bad as it sounds. Written by Robbie Fox (So I Married an Axe Murderer) and directed by Gabriele Muccino (Seven Pounds), the narrative unfolds exactly as one would expect it - there are no surprises or twists to the plot. Interestingly enough, there is a lot of star power in Playing for Keeps; Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago) and Judy Greer ("Miss Guided") all play soccer moms, while Dennis Quaid (Frequency) is easily the best aspect of the movie as an obnoxious parent named Carl. The acting is not the problem - the cast is serviceable. The script is another story. Playing for Keeps is predictable, lightweight, and just not much fun.

Another problem with Playing for Keeps comes from its characters. None of them are likable at all, so the audience doesn't have anything to which they can relate. Although it's nice to see Jessica Biel in a plain Jane, maternal role, her Stacie is too maternal; she plays mother to both her son and her ex-husband, and her character has an intrinsic unhappiness and insecurity that alienates her, both from other characters and from the audience. With the exception of Judy Greer's Barbara, who is only there for laughs, the soccer moms are all selfish and manipulative, both in good ways and bad, but all end up leaving you with a bad taste. And then there's George. No matter what situation George may find himself in, he mishandles it. He is disrespectful to his ex-wife and neglectful to his son, but the strange thing is that he has the best of intentions; whether through misunderstandings or incompetence, George seemingly can do no right, and not in the cute mascot kind of way. The viewer feels no sympathy for George - they just feel that he's a jerk.

Playing for Keeps is a predictable film with little conflict and an all-star cast that makes the best out of their one-dimensional characters. It looks and feels like a film that has been made before, and that familiarity is its downfall. Even the title is generic, and that fact makes sure that it will be lost in the sea of holiday releases. Everyone has seen Playing for Keeps before, they just can't remember when.
Comedy Factor
If there's one reason to see Playing for Keeps, it's for the laughs. It's not side-splittingly funny, but it has its moments. Most of the humor is delivered as one-liners by the kids on the team, the type of cutesy comedy that is only funny because it's coming from a child. Dennis Quaid's Carl is such a douchebag that there is no way that he can't be laughed at, and Judy Greer's Barb is good for some silly, airhead chuckles. Add in a few funny scenes between George and his landlord, Param (Iqbal Theba, Principal Figgins on "Glee"), and there's enough laughs to keep the film from being too excruciating, but The Bad News Bears this is not. There's nothing too heavy in Playing for Keeps, just some lighthearted yucks. They're almost enough to save the film. Almost, but not quite.

Romance, Comedy, Romantic Comedy
Release Date
December 7, 2012
MPAA Rating
PG 13
Music Score