Playing for Keeps is comprised of many baffling mysteries, not least, how four talented actresses — Uma Thurman, Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Judy Greer — were attracted to this misogynistic movie project. Or how the moviemakers convinced all four to be irresistibly attracted to Gerard Butler’s onscreen character.
Which brings us to the next mystery: how it is that casting directors/directors have suddenly decided that Butler is a suitable lead for romantic comedies. Undoubtedly he has a great body — and that nice burry Scottish accent — but essentially, he is so, so unfunny. Neither does he display much finesse at romancing the ladies onscreen.
So, anyway. Butler plays George Dryer, a once-famous soccer champion who was all the rage and who scored solidly in the game and with the ladies. But the glory days are over; when the movie opens, he’s jobless, broke and single, hawking his own sports paraphernalia to make the odd buck.
He is washed up on the unlikely shores of a Virginia suburb, in an attempt to reconnect with his nine-year-old son Lewis (played by a freckled Noah Lomax, the best thing in the film).
Equally, George would like to reconnect with Lewis’ mom, i.e. his ex-wife Stacie (Biel) who is on the verge of marrying Matt (James Tupper), a caring, understanding man. The subtext, of course, is that Mr Right is really Mr Boring, compared to Stacie’s wildly charismatic ex-husband.
With nothing else to do, George finds himself coaching his son’s soccer team. Apart from creating some quality time with his son, the perks of the job include a bevy of soccer mums who fling themselves at him.
This includes former TV personality Denise (Zeta-Jones) who seduces George with the promise of helping him land his dream sportscasting job; rich, bored housewife Patti (Thurman) who aims to seduce by turning up in black lingerie; and very horny divorcee Barb (Greer) who goes for unsubtle propositioning.
Mysteriously — for a supposedly philandering guy — George isn’t all that attracted to any of them. The reformed rake is serious about getting back his ex-wife, who is inexplicably made to look washed out and frumpy in comparison to all these other beautiful women. Go figure. The movie also sports some completely inane characters such as the super-rich, obnoxious businessman — played by Dennis Quaid — who is married to Thurman. He gives George some very big bills to ensure his son gets on to the soccer team, the morality of which, oddly enough, is never explored. He also — equally oddly — loans George a red Ferrari in which to drive around.
The movie swerves as wildly as the snazzy car, careening from emotionless dad-son bonding moments to dull sexual farce, to well, nothing much at all. Which of course is the movie’s biggest mystery: what on earth was the tone being aimed for, by director Gabriele Muccino and scriptwriter Robbie Fox?
But hey, if you are in the market for a romcom that is neither romantic nor funny — then Playing for Keeps is a keeper.
Playing For Keeps
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Cast: Gerard Butler, Uma Thurman, Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer
Storyline: Ex-soccer star tries to reunite with estranged wife and son, while fending off the attentions of sexy soccer mums.
Bottomline: A wannabe “sexy, sports comedy meets sweet, family drama” – that fails at all genres.