Stop me if this premise sounds even remotely familiar.
Gerard Butler is George, a former soccer superstar that’s now reduced to selling his old trophies and uniforms to pay the rent. He has a beautiful ex-wife, played by Jessica Biel, who is engaged to marry another man. George and his ex have a precious little boy who feels neglected by his deadbeat dad. But George just may be able to patch things up between him and his estranged family by coaching his kid’s soccer team. Why wherever did they think of a setup like that?
While “Playing for Keeps” isn’t necessarily an innovative and worthwhile film, this romantic comedy does accomplish exactly what it sets out to do. It’s light, formulaic comfort food with perfectly good intentions. If that’s all your heart desires, then you’re probably going to have a pleasant time. If you ask for anything more though, prepare to feel cheated.
Butler hasn’t always made for the most convincing lead in sentimental fair. Most of the time he looks like he would rather be chopping somebody’s head off on a battlefield. He’s actually surprisingly tamed here though, making for a likable, sincere protagonist. Sadly, there’s not much to George as a character. We’ve seen this kind of guy in a thousand other movies before. Bad luck and timing always gets in the way, causing George to further disappoint his family. But gosh darn-it, he’s just so charming and vulnerable that you’ve got to root for him.
There’s not a whole lot to Biel’s character either, who’s basically just the generic ex-wife that does nothing but judge and forgive her former lover. As for her fiancé, the film at least has the integrality to not make him a one-dimensional bad guy. Then again, they really don’t give him any personality at all. In addition to this love triangle, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ hotshot soccer mom is also pursuing George and may be able to score him an interview with ESPN. Uma Thurman’s cartoonish Patti additionally has her eyes on George. The problem is that she is married to an eccentric rich man played by Dennis Quaid, who always looks like he’s drunk, high and suffering from a mild case of Parkinson’s. Lets not forget Judy Greer as yet another quirky, single soccer mom that has a crush George.
As you can tell from that lineup, George has one too many potential suitors. Maybe it would have been interesting if there were some suspense regarding whom George would end up with. It’s pretty clear from the get go however, that he is destined for his ex-wife. There are no surprises or unexpected twists down the line. Towards the end of “Playing For Keeps,” it is revealed that Greer’s character has hooked up with George’s landlord, played by Iqbal Theba. If only “Playing For Keeps” had been all about their underdeveloped romance, then maybe we would have a funnier, more unique film. Instead, we’re left with pleasingly uninspired escapism.
Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past seven years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com
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