Anything but a keeper
The Butler did it… again. Scottish-born actor Gerard Butler has selected yet another highly suspect script, and neither his charming accent nor his ever Spartan-like physique can lift his latest woebegone rom-com “Playing for Keeps” to a memorable level.
That’s really a shame because Butler is a good (if not great) actor, as roles in this year’s critically acclaimed “Coriolanus” or his highly respectable turn as The Phantom suggest. Yet his catalog is filled with so many losers—“Machine Gun Preacher,” “The Bounty Hunter,” “Gamer,” “The Ugly Truth,” “P.S. I Love You,” “Timeline”—that his better films like “Dear Frankie” and “Nim’s Island” are often overlooked.
At the heart of “Playing for Keeps” are the seeds of a decent film. Iconic international soccer star George, (Butler) is now retired. He’s desperate to find a job in broadcasting, and moves to a ritzy neighborhood in Virginia to be near 10-year-old Lewis (a supper-cute Noah Lomax), the son from his failed marriage to Stacie (Jessica Biel in dressed-down mode).
When he decides to take charge of his son’s soccer team (Butler’s soccer skills are obviously natural), several team moms start throwing themselves at the hunky coach. “Keeps” gets casting points because seeing the talents of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, and Judy Greer in desperate housewife mode is entertaining, as is Dennis Quaid’s sleazeball soccer dad. Quaid is so wildly over the top you forget the film has almost no plot whatsoever.
In fact, noteworthy of “Keeps” is that a plot conflict surfaces and is immediately resolved within a few minutes toward the end of the film, perhaps in a brazen attempt to avoid being accused of formulaic convention. Or maybe it is just poor writing?
“Keeps” also manages to completely avoid any discussion of what would seem to be a major plot point. Namely, why did George and Stacie break up in the first place? Could it have been George’s womanizing, which appears to remain fairly intact? Of course, this allows for the all-too-convenient (spoiler alert) unabated reconciliation.
This is unfortunate because in their few, quieter, contemplative scenes together, Butler and Biel offer some of the best, most believable moments of their individual careers. Like everyone in the cast of “Playing for Keeps,” the leads do the best they can with mediocre material, making the film worthwhile for only the most forgiving of audiences.
Rated PG-13 for some sexual situations, language, and a brief intense image.