Playing for Keeps Not a Keeper
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2012 7 Dec
DVD Release Date: March 5, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: December 7, 2012
Rating: PG-13 for some sexual situations, language and a brief intense image
Run Time: 106 min.
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Cast: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, Dennis Quaid, Noah Lomax, James Tupper, Judy Greer
As Playing for Keeps, the new romantic comedy starring Gerard Butler (Chasing Mavericks) and Jessica Biel (Total Recall), builds to its conclusion, a character is challenged to search her feelings about one of the men in her life with this question: "Does he make you laugh?"
Good thing to consider, but unfortunately the same question could be asked about this ostensible romantic comedy: Does it make us laugh? Not really.
Playing for Keeps is more glum than lighthearted, its dialogue more clichéd than crackling, and its rooting interest in marriage more a plot convenience than a real-world plausibility. A story that sets itself up to be about a man establishing his independence and accepting the mistakes he’s made in life—and their costs—is switched out for a feel-good ending that plays entirely false and unearned.
George (Butler) is a former soccer pro well past his prime. He’s divorced, unable to pay the rent and in need of direction, but that doesn’t keep him from spending his appointed days with his son, Lewis (Noah Lomax).
During one of Lewis’s soccer practices, George steps in and rallies the team while the distracted coach walks the sidelines and carries on cellphone conversations. Seeing the boys' positive reaction to George, the team parents enlist George to take over as coach.
The story is about George finding his footing, so to speak, as the team's coach as well as in the game of life. He wants things to be the way they used to be, before he made the missteps that ended his marriage. Except this movie also wants to celebrate the way women swoon for George. He spends the first half of the film fending off the flirtations of one soccer mom after another. We’re led to believe that George is weary of such come-ons, and wise to the risks they entail (some of the women who come on to George are married). This all leads to some weak chuckles.
It's a familiar formula, used in the hope of cementing Butler as a romantic leading man. The camera certainly likes the actor, but Playing for Keeps doesn't pan out any better than earlier attempts The Bounty Hunter or The Ugly Truth at making him the next Robert Redford.
The film feels twice as long as its 106-minute run time, thanks to the aforementioned tepid first-half attempts at comedy being paired with a second half that turns morose and maudlin as George tries to piece his life back together. The key to happiness, he believes, is to rekindle his relationship with his ex-wife Stacie (Biel), even though she’s happily on the cusp of marrying her years-long boyfriend (James Tupper, Mr. Popper's Penguins), who has been more of a father figure to Lewis than George has.
Although Stacie challenges George to move on with his life just as she’s moving on with hers, the movie wants us to root for them to get back together. While that may be admirable to some extent, it doesn’t work dramatically. For when Stacie urges George to get his own life, we side with Stacie. When George gets in the way of Stacie’s wedding plans, we wish, along with Stacie, that he would butt out. And when Stacie’s boyfriend confronts her over her feelings for George, we watch as a man who has treated Stacie well is cast aside in favor of a man who can’t pay his rent.
Granted, by that point in the film, George’s situation has improved, thanks to the improbable contrivances of Hollywood storytelling (not only is one soccer mom extremely attractive, she has connections to ESPN and a potential broadcasting career for George). But with no reason to root against the man who’s been good to Stacie and has helped her raise Lewis, viewers don’t have much invested in George and Stacie’s reconciliation.
Playing for Keeps releases amid a batch of strong end-of-year films, nearly all of which are more worth your time and money than this weak, conflicted film. Butler’s star may still be rising, but when it shines this dimly, is it even worth noticing?
- Language/Profanity: “He-l”; “a-s”; “son of a b-tch”; “wankers”; “s-it”
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Drinking at a party; beer with dinner; women share drinks with George
- Sex/Nudity: Bare-chested George shown a couple of times; women come on to George constantly; one woman kisses him passionately, and the next scene shows George waking up to find a note from the woman, who has left; Lewis sees George kissing a soccer mom; a woman strips to her underwear and lays on George’s bed, and tries to get him to join her
- Violence/Crime: Mention of damage to a boy’s testicles; an offer of money from a player’s dad is a form of bribery; George watches a horror movie with his son; a man has George bail him out of jail; George lets Lewis drive his Ferrari; men shove each other, pull each other to the ground and fight
- Marriage: George is divorced; a woman knows of her husband’s infidelity and accepts it; advice to not stay in an unhappy marriage
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: December 7, 2012