Mark Reviews Movies

Playing for Keeps (2012)


1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Gabriele Muccino

Cast: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Noah Lomax, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer, Iqbal Theba, James Tupper

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual situations, language and a brief intense image)

Running Time: 1:46

Release Date: 12/7/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 6, 2012

The setup—and one supposes the message—of Playing for Keeps is that a handsome and somewhat charming retired soccer player with a Scottish brogue, money problems, and difficulty taking responsibility for his life will quickly drive the residents of a well-to-do neighborhood insane with lust and the desire for hero worship. If the movie were about the pull of celebrity, that would be one thing, but the screenplay by Robbie Fox has no such ambition—or any, for that matter. This is simply a groan-inducing comedy of errors about an accidental lothario mixed with a transparently predictable look at an irresponsible man forced to become a better father, husband, etc., person to really have a fulfilling, promising, etc., etc., good life.

Fox doesn't think much of these characters, especially the female ones, who hover over and stalk George Dryer (Gerard Butler) to make up for their all-around miserable lives. The only exception is his ex-wife, a seemingly intelligent woman who fell in love with a famous man and learned the hard way that his fame came with a price: namely their marriage. Given how little respect the movie has for the women within it, it's, of course, only a matter of time before that lesson of the past goes out the window along with any remnant of self-respect she may have earned since her divorce.

George had a long career as a professional soccer player in Europe until an ankle injury ended it. A few years later, he comes to the United States and moves into the guest house of a very fine estate, where the owner and his landlord (Iqbal Theba) must constantly ask him to finally pay his security deposit and rent. Since George has no job, this is not going to happen anytime soon; when he attempts to sell all his soccer jerseys and memorabilia at a pawn shop, he's offered a few hundred dollars. The point is that no one really cares for soccer on this side of the pond.

One would not garnered that opinion from this affluent suburb, where everyone's life seems to revolve around the little league soccer team. It's the only solid connection George has with his son Lewis (Noah Lomax), who plays on the team, as George's ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel) is uncertain about her former husband's ability to be a real father to the boy. She has since moved on with her life and preparing to marry Matt (James Tupper), who is best described as a decoration, given that we only see him outside of the house once.

It should come as no surprise that George starts coaching Lewis' soccer team, but it is a bit stunning how the town reacts to this news. He's accosted by Barb (Judy Greer), a single mother who wants to spend some private time with the new coach and cries at the drop of a hat. He's followed by Denise (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a former sports broadcaster who wants to help George begin a career in that field and also has eyes for him in a more carnal way.

He's ogled from afar by Patti (Uma Thurman), whose jealous husband Carl (Dennis Quaid) is the richest man in town and clings to George in his own way—sharing some gossip about his philandering ways and an expensive sports car, for example. He offers the new coach an envelope of cash for "jerseys" and "equipment" but mainly to get his son to play goalie. In one scene, George uses the money for himself, a point that is as rapidly forgotten as Carl himself, who appears after a long absence with George noting that he wondered why he was away for so long.

George winds up in bed with one of these women, on the desk in a television studio with another, and on the phone with a third while she lies in her underwear on his landlord's bed (How the wall of photos of people who look nothing like George doesn't attract her attention until she calls him is one of the movie's biggest mysteries). He doesn't seek out these encounters; they simply fall in his lap. It is, one guesses, an easy way to give George something to do while still maintaining a certain innocence about him (i.e., he might not be showing himself growing into a more reliable person, but it's not his fault).  All of it is far too contrived and mildly sexist to be amusing.

Eventually, the focus shifts to George trying to regain his old family, and the process is hokey and dishonest, climaxing with a pair of scenes between George and Stacie that has her completely changing her mind about a major decision within 30 seconds. This is before the next climax, which gives her a contrived reason to change her mind again, and that is followed by yet another where George has to make the Big Decision between family and career. Playing for Keeps also has a Big Game that is established as poorly and has as little bearing as everything else in the movie.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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