What It's About
A pro soccer player and soccer moms in the same movie! Now there's a new twist. Too bad "Playing for Keeps" is a sorry mishmash of bad writing and even worse direction.
Ruggedly handsome Gerard Butler plays George Dryer, a former pro soccer great who has fallen on hard times. His wife Stacie (Jessica Biel) has divorced him, and in order to be closer to his young son Lewis (Noah Lomax), he moves to their turf, suburban Virginia, where desperate housewives throw themselves at him when he takes over coaching his son's team. Fending off amorous advances from the well-heeled swingers occurs at the same time he's trying to win his ex back and embrace family life.
Uma Thurman and Catherine Zeta-Jones should fire their agents. And Dennis Quaid needs to be picking better scripts, as does Gerard Butler. The Scottish accent and charm only go so far -- Butler has a strong fan base but he hasn't been giving them anything worthy of his talents. If you saw last year's "Coriolanus," the Shakespeare adaptation, you realize he can act, but he's had a string of rom-com duds. including "The Bounty Hunter" and "The Ugly Truth."
Noah Lomax ("The Walking Dead") is the typical adorable little tyke, who bonds with dad after a rough start.
You wonder why the studly Dryer would pine for his ex-wife because Jessica Biel ("Valentine's Day") plays Stacie without any trace of a personality and looks as plain as an Amish woman. The screenwriters and director have done her no favors -- showing her as dour, glum and frumpy. She is engaged to a colorless guy (poor James Tupper of "Revenge"). Even when she's exasperated by the hottie she fell in love with in "King George," who disappointed her by his supposed roving eye during his world-traveling glory days, it feels artificial.
The whole fiasco rings hollow. Butler's considerable charisma can carry this flimsy romantic comedy only so far. The father-and-son moments are the film's saving grace -- and audience members even sighed. Obviously, a crowd pleaser if you ignore the shameless attempts by Thurman, Zeta-Jones and Judy Greer to score with the magnetic pro athlete, who is still in remarkable shape. It's sappy, so if you're OK with schmaltz, you might enjoy.
Butler certainly knows how to play soccer. He filmed his first soccer movie here in St. Louis -- 2005's "The Game of Their Lives" in which he played Frank Borghi. That was when he was an up-and-coming star. Today, Butler has a long list of credits, but really he's coasting.
What Doesn't Work
The women caricatures are an embarrassment. The plot zigzags with shallow conflicts and obvious continuity issues. Quaid's character lands in jail, but we never see why. We don't really get any reason to care about Stacie choosing George over the milquetoast Matt, and the chemistry is sorely lacking as well.
1 1/2 stars
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman
Rated: PG-13 for some sexual situations, language and a brief intense image.