12/13/2012 - Gerard Butler is all “check out my broad shoulders and rakish stubble” in Playing For Keeps, a movie that is primarily about reminding you how dishy Butler can be.
Remember the first time you saw 300? And you went “howdy-do King Leonidas” and then said “hel-lo, Sparta” in that scene featuring his (probably digitally improved) derriere? And then remember after that how you saw P.S. I Love You and Ugly Truth and maybe even The Bounty Hunter and decided “ugh, pass”? Well, Playing For Keeps is literally all about how Butler is middle-aged-lady catnip and dresses him accordingly (lots of ab-accentuating shirts, just the right amount of tousled in his hair). I’m not sure if this is a movie or just a long “for your consideration” to the editors of People when they’re making next year’s Sexiest Man pick.
Because, you see, George (Butler) is a former pro soccer player, and put that together with his eye crinkles and his Scottish accent and you can see why the moms at son Lewis’ (Noah Lomax) soccer practice are all a-giggle over him. This is particularly true once George takes over as coach and gets the kids engaged in the sport. The one mom not swooning and fanning herself is Stacie (Jessica Biel), George’s ex and Lewis’ mom. She is trying to move on and is even planning to marry Matt (James Tupper), a boring nice guy.
George may hold out some hope that his plan to recommit himself to being a better dad will end up winning back Stacie as well, but that doesn’t stop him from making very nice with soccer moms Barb (Judy Greer), a recent divorcee, and Denise (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a former sportscaster who holds out her connections with ESPN as a way to get George to spend a little time with her. And then there’s the crazy, wealthy couple: she (Uma Thurman) would like to be one of the moms getting extra time with coach, and he (Dennis Quaid) wants to befriend George to use his fame to wow clients from soccer-loving countries.
Sure, Butler is sexy. But, wow, is Playing For Keeps stupid. This is, I guess, a romantic comedy? Or something? About 70 percent of it is about what a fumble-bumble Butler is at all this dad stuff — he’s been a distant father, how wacky! But then, after all the sexing it up with the soccer moms provides us with scenes of what I think is supposed to be comedy, the movie turns left into some stuff about how George misses Stacie. It’s as though the movie itself got all distracted by the shirtless Butler only to swerve back into a story — “oh, right, relationships or something.” I happened to see this movie within 24 hours of seeing Friends with Kids, the excellent sort-of rom-com written by, directed by and starring Jennifer Westfeldt. Westfeldt plays a woman who attempts to outmaneuver the romance-killing effect kids can have on a relationship by having a kid with just-friend Adam Scott. Some of the issues in that movie are similar to the issues in this one, but the difference in how they’re handled is like the difference between a perfectly-aged and flavorful Napa merlot and sugar- free grape Kool-Aid. No subtlety, no moments of genuine life ever touch Playing For Keeps. Even Butler’s sex appeal is never really used well — he’s handsome, sure, but we never really get a real person under all those tight shirts. He’s a prop for Zeta-Jones’ aggressiveness, Thurman’s craziness or Greer’s skittishness — that last part being the least appealing of all of George’s mom encounters. Greer can be such a winning comic actress that it’s annoying she’s given such a sad and needy role. The movie could have won itself a few points simply by replacing the brittle, haggard-seeming Biel with Greer.
As it is, however, Playing For Keep spends all its efforts on making Butler look hot, and none at all at making the movie something worth watching. D-
Rated PG-13 for some sexual situations, language and brief intense image. Directed by Gabriele Muccio with a screenplay by Robbie Fox, Playing For Keeps is an hour and 46 minutes long and distributed by FilmDistrict.