Film: Playing For Keeps
Cast: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta Jones, Uma Thurman and Dennis Quaid
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Plot Synopsis: A former sports star George (Gerard Butler) who's fallen on hard times starts coaching his son's soccer team as a way to get his life together. However, George's attempts to become an adult are met with challenges from the attractive, restless and gorgeous soccer moms who pursue him at every turn.
Despite it's all-star cast, Gabriele Muccino's Playing For Keeps proves that attractive and talented actors can’t redeem a sodden script. Here's why the film might just be the worst of 2012:
Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter
This is a good premise for a comedy, but somewhere along the way, it got diluted and turned into a sappy, feel-good story of family togetherness. Butler’s fans may help to draw an audience for the film in its opening weekend, but it will be gone by 2013. This one’s no keeper.
The early comic scenes with the soccer moms are the movie’s most promising, but the picture quickly drops the sexual byplay for more dreary scenes of father-son bonding and domestic turmoil.
George’s character would have been far more interesting if he were a little more jazzed by all the female attention, but in a misguided effort to win sympathy for him, he’s totally passive as the women throw themselves at him and practically tear his clothes off.
Another drawback of this wavering tone is that most of the actors are stranded with one-note characters to play. Greer and Zeta-Jones are still fun to watch. Zeta-Jones in particular gives a delectable performance as a sexy minx who dangles her connections with ESPN to charm George out of his pants. But Thurman’s role is completely underdeveloped. In one scene she’s the imperious hostess at a neighborhood party, and in the next she’s a panting sex fiend who turns up in George’s guest house in black bra and panties.
If this were a romantic comedy of the 1930s, all the secondary characters would be much more richly developed to do justice to the talents of the great actors under studio contract. Nowadays, however, everything is built around stars, and the supporting actors flounder. With a cast as good as this one, that’s a crying shame.
Technical credits are solid. Louisiana actually doubled for Virginia, but the suburban locations are warmly inviting. The score is a bit soupy, befitting this well meaning but antiseptic portrayal of middle-aged malaise.
Verdict: Attractive actors can’t redeem a sodden script.
A O SCOTT, NYTimes.com
...Mr. Butler is among the least naturally funny actors in film comedy today. George facetiously tells his landlord (Iqbal Theba) that the secret to his success with women is “the accent,” and that may be true of Mr. Butler as well. His growly burr certainly adds to the shaggy charm, at once laid-back and aggressive, that he projects here.
What he cannot seem to do is to convey any sense of the emotional stakes, but this may also be the fault of an all-over-the-place script (by Robbie Fox) and of Gabriele Muccino’s uneven direction.
Verdict: Sometimes the movie swerves toward farce, sometimes into the zone of smiley family comedy and at other times into full-on weepiness. None of it is especially credible or engaging.
Christy Lemire, Associated Press
This is supposed to be the time of year when high-quality movies come out, whether they're potential Oscar contenders or crowd-pleasing family fare.
So the presence of flat, hacky, unfunny dreck like Playing for Keeps — the kind of film that ordinarily tries to fly under the radar in January or February but would be torture to sit through in any month — is a total mystery.
It is truly baffling that all the talented, acclaimed actors involved actually read this script and then agreed to devote their time to this movie, especially given its uncomfortably flagrant misogynistic streak. Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman couldn't possibly need work this badly. And yet, here they are as soccer moms shamelessly throwing themselves at Gerard Butler and his tousled, manly mane.
Director Gabriele Muccino, who's had mixed results with Will Smith in "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Seven Pounds," veers awkwardly between wacky hijinks and facile sentimentality, and Robbie Fox's script doesn't feature a single character who resembles an actual human being. George is weirdly indifferent in the face of all this attention, the low point of which finds Thurman as a married socialite sneaking into his bed in a black bra and panties to seduce him in the middle of the night.
Verdict: Flat, hacky soccer comedy Playing for Keeps is a bicycle kick to the head
Justin Chang, Variety.com
A modestly affecting reconciliation drama wrapped in a so-so sports movie by way of a misogynistic romantic comedy, "Playing for Keeps" can't stop tripping all over itself. Returning to Hollywood filmmaking after his 2010 Italian laffer "Kiss Me Again," helmer Gabriele Muccino doesn't go as spectacularly astray as he did in 2008's "Seven Pounds," but this cluttered tale of a past-his-prime soccer player trying to win back his ex-wife and son still hits too many false notes to realize its core emotional potential. Toplined by Gerard Butler but distinguished by Jessica Biel, the FilmDistrict release should score middling returns.
Butler, playing his second athletic father figure of the season (after "Chasing Mavericks"), is solid enough, and gets to speak with his native brogue, though his scruffy, mildly charming meathead routine is starting to wear thin. It's Biel who almost singlehandedly elevates the picture to a realm of honest feeling: Providing a classy corrective to her ill-served distaff co-stars, the actress makes her character smart, tough, yet still achingly vulnerable, signaling years of long-suffering backstory with her eyes alone. Biel is so good that, when the time inevitably comes for Stacie to choose between the two men in her life, one yearns for her to consider herself first.
Verdict: Despite its relatively straightforward story elements, Playing for Keeps never coheres, undone by its wobbly tone and weakness for tidily artificial moments and plot developments. Tech credits are as generic as the pic's title (changed from the racier original, Playing the Field).
Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times
The idea underlying "Playing for Keeps," the new romantic comedy starring Gerard Butler, is basic: A well-toned guy who is good with kids is the ultimate aphrodisiac for sex-starved soccer moms. Three very good actresses are squandered to prove the point.
And yet, like the former soccer star played by Butler — all hard abs, easy smiles and golden curls, his Scottish brogue set free — the film has some of the right moves.
There is cool footage of game-winning kicks, a kid anyone would adore, and Butler's playboy/athlete who seems serious about unearthing his decent side.
Directed by Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness) and written by Robbie Fox, there is a story here, but more than anything else Playing for Keeps is out to score a feel-good moment in every single scene — no exaggeration.
To be fair, Butler's George has some chemistry with most of the moms, just not the mom that matters. That particular twist is not one the film intends, I am sure. Biel easily pulls off the sporty, mom-next-door look for Stacie, but she never crosses over into still-madly-in-love-with-the-guy territory, which is where the film is headed from the outset.
Verdict: Though the stereotypic Playing for Keeps wastes the talents of actresses like Uma Thurman, at least Gerard Butler gets to show off his romantic leading-man potential.
Claudia Puig, USA Today
The shenanigans of randy soccer moms and their obnoxious blowhard husbands are intended as comic relief. But the sappy plot of this formulaic romantic comedy (* 1/2 out of four; rated PG-13; opening Friday nationwide) is just as silly as its inane attempts at farce.
A predictable tale with lackluster performances, it has virtually nothing to recommend it except a 10-year-old actor who outshines the veteran cast.
It's a shame to see such talented actresses as Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman reduced to cardboard-cutout sexpot roles. Thurman plays a wealthy matron, married to Quaid. She has only a few lines and utters most of them while in her underwear. Zeta-Jones is a former ESPN reporter who offers to help George into a sportscasting gig and out of his pants.
Also fluttering around is Judy Greer, who plays a tremulous divorcee. Something about the hunky George makes her repeatedly bursts into tears, until she finds her way to his bachelor pad and bed. Eventually most of the moms make their way there, uninvited, as if each is equipped with a passion-seeking GPS.
Verdict: Gerard Butler's irresistible brogue, an ensemble cast of veterans and a promising young actor can't keep an artificial and formulaic rom-com from sinking to the depths. Playing for Keeps is a throwaway movie if ever there was one.