PLAYING FOR KEEPS
*1/2 (out of 5)
December 14, 2012
Gerard Butler as GEORGE
Jessica Biel as STACIE
Noah Lomax as LEWIS
Dennis Quaid as CARL
Uma Thurman as PATTI
Catherine Zeta-Jones as DENISE
Judy Greer as BARB
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
What the hell happened to Gerard Butler. I mean, less than five years ago, he was the next big star, tearing up the screen in “300” and primed to do both romantic comedies and action films. Fast-forward through a few years and more than a few flops, and you get the guy who is starring in “Playing for Keeps.”
The story is a misfire of a concept about George (Butler), a former professional soccer player who finds himself coaching his son’s pee-wee soccer team. He finds himself at the center of attention of the other moms in the league, and he tries to work around this to be a father to his son, rekindle his relationship with his ex wife Stacie (Jessica Biel) and start a career in broadcast journalism.
If you think it sounds like too much is happening in this movie, you’re right. There’s a lot of poorly-conceived plot crammed into this film, and it never actually decides what it wants to be, emerging as a disjointed story suffering from severe ADHD.
Don’t get me wrong. I like a good romantic comedy when it comes my way, more than most other critics I know. If done properly, these movies can be a lot of fun, and fitting into a prescribed formula actually works for them. It’s when they deviate from that formula – or when the filmmakers don’t seem to actually understand it – is when things fall apart.
That’s what happened with “Playing for Keeps.” In many ways, it feels like the people making this movie set out to make a romantic comedy and just imitated things they’ve seen in other films out there. However, they didn’t quite understand how it all fits together.
On one hand, it appears that this movie is about a guy just trying to be a good dad, even though he fails at it most of the time. This isn’t new territory for Gabriele Muccino, as it was the focus of his less-comedic but still fatherly “The Pursuit of Happyness.” But in the rom com setting, he tries to deal with some very real and very serious elements to fatherhood while tossing out a joke here and there. This gives the movie the awkwardness of that classic “Diff’rent Strokes” episode in which Gordon Jump played a child molester, but the show still had to have the network-mandated laugh-to-minute ratio.
Then the film turns into a weird suburban sex romp. George manages to stumble into sexual encounters with the various soccer moms in town. This, of course, is played for laughs and doesn’t erupt into an estrogen-fueled battle on the soccer field. In fact, the only real fighting that happens (outside of the redundant and overwritten verbal fights between George and his ex) is a forced and completely out-of-place scuffle between George and Carl (Dennis Quaid) over a misunderstood affair with pretty much the only soccer mom that George didn’t sleep with.
Finally, the film moves into a weird reconciliation between George and Stacie, which might have been okay had the entirety of the film led up to them not getting back together. This whole angle seemed thrown in at the end, and it just doesn’t work. There’s change in George’s character to make him want to be a better father, but none showing he could be a better husband.
Granted, these are all plot elements that have worked to a certain degree in other movies. They’re just sloppily sewn together as a patchwork for this film. I suppose that’s what you get for having your star also an executive producer, with his big rom com experience being a lead role in “The Bounty Hunter” and “The Ugly Truth.”
Though the biggest misfire of this movie as a rom com is that it’s not about a woman. Look through all the true, traditional romantic comedies that live on as chick flick fodder, and you’ll find a female lead in almost every one. “Playing for Keeps” wants to be a movie for women, but it marginalizes their characters and trivializes their contributions to a relationship. It’s a movie about a guy trying to have it all through convenience sake, and he continues to get lucky with no real sacrifice.
And that just doesn’t cut it as a regular film or a traditional rom com. (But on the plus side, Will Smith’s annoying son isn’t in this movie. Thank god for small favors.)