PLAYING FOR KEEPS

 

PLAYING FOR KEEPS

 

By Gary Murray

Starring Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman and Catherine Zeta-Jones

Written by Robbie Fox

Directed by Gabriele Muccino

Running time 106 min

MPAA Rating PG-13

Selig Film Rating Cable

 

The romantic comedy has had many more downs than ups over the last few years.  What was once the basic staple of cinema has been showing signs of wear, with dwindling box office and apathy by most people.  Hollywood keeps trying to bring the genre back from the dead and the latest attempt is called Playing for Keeps.

The story of Playing for Keeps is about a former soccer star George (Gerard Butler).  He is a guy past his prime and struggling to keep the lifestyle together.  He is in Virginia, trying to build a relationship with his 8 year-old son Lewis (Noah Lomax).  George’s former wife Stacie (Jessica Biel) is getting ready to re-marry.  Years ago, she loved the wild lifestyle of being an international soccer wife but now wants what is best for her son.

George, in a feeble attempt to get closer to his son, decides to coach the kid’s soccer team.  It is there that he meets the soccer moms.  There is Barb (Judy Greer) the mom who is divorced and gun-shy about being with another man.  She is wildly emotional, going from giggling to crying in a split-second.  Denise (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is a former broadcaster who sees something more in George.  Lastly, there is Patti (Uma Thurman) the married woman looking for a little adventure.  Dennis Quaid plays her husband Carl, a man who senses friendship and competition with George. 

Our man George becomes more involved with the soccer moms much to his on chagrin.  He wants to win back his wife, prove that he can be a good father and stop the wedding.  The more he tries to do the right thing, the more things do not work out.  Everyone who has ever seen this type of film knows exactly how it is going to end, the fun is supposed to be in the journey. 

Playing for Keeps is not the film expected.  It has a very dark center, much more of bitter pill to swallow than a traditional romantic comedy.  It is more like a French bedroom farce than what one expects from the romantic comedy genre.  Many will probably be disappointed by the final product.  Writer Robbie Fox tries to spin a manic web of comedy but never finds that flicker of flame needed.  The film trudges along without building on anything. 

Gerard Butler is the rogue of our piece but never finds anything special with the character.  It is all just about his looks and nothing about his substance.  One can understand the carnal wanting of the soccer moms but not the deep emotional connection between the two struggling ex-lovers.  We never believe that George and Stacie were ever a romantic couple.  A few old pictures do not make a romance.

Jessica Biel is our object of affection but, like most fairy princesses, is the most boring person in the cast.  The trio of soccer moms are way more interesting characters.  Uma Thurman chews up her every scene as Patti, trying to seduce our hero just to get even with her husband.  Dennis Quaid plays the likeable cad with a certain deft touch. The strange thing is that he just disappears for a long time in the middle of the film.  Then, he reappears at the end to tie up some screenplay loose ends. 

 Catherine Zeta-Jones is always charming but this is not her best work.  She should have been a more manipulative in her character.  Being a bit more evil would have helped the final product.  Judy Greer holds her own against all the Oscar-nominated actresses without missing a comedic beat.  Her character may be out of cliché central but she delivers the role as if were something unique. 

Director Gabriele Muccino has one of the strongest casts assembled in 2012 but does nothing special with them.  It is a waste of time and talent as the director fumbles with all the beats of the genre, never finding a personal rhythm to make an exceptional motion picture.  There are some touches of flash but it seems to come more from the quantity of the actors than the quality of the director.

Playing for Keeps is nothing more than an average film trying to disguise itself as something more.  It is much like cotton candy, sweetly sick but with no nutritional value.

 

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