'Playing for Keeps' shouldn't be playing at all

By Gary Wolcott, atomictown.comDecember 7, 2012 

Don't let Playing for Keeps with its soccer, sports angle and the macho image of star Gerard Butler fool you.

What the film's producers and writer Robbie Fox (So I Married an Axe Murderer) and director Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness) give you is is a heavy-handed, not very well written, mostly boring chick flick.

That's the bottom line. Period.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

The film's attraction is Butler. Actor Channing Tatum may be the sexiest man alive, but Butler is eye candy with a considerable number of drooling female fans. In this case, the drooling I refer to offers a couple of ironic twists.

Butler's fans are the soccer moms of the world, and in the film he's struggling to avoid soccer moms. And not that successfully. Here's the plot. Butler plays George, an ex-soccer superstar whose womanizing ways and ego led to divorce and eventual estrangement from his young son. The career is over. Out of money and desperate for a life change, George reconnects with the kid.

Naturally, he ends up coaching the young boy's team. Soccer moms -- married and single -- pop up. Some are connected in ways that can further George's next career stop, sportscasting. Others just want to seduce him. That's what Butler's drooling fans want to see.

The movie's female characters predictably distract George from the goal of reestablishing a relationship with his child. Oh, and they just might get in the way of winning back his former bride who is getting married soon.

Lots of complaints about the movie. Few complaints about the acting.

Jessica Biel does the ex-wife with ease. She gives her character girl next door, virginal qualities. Like child newcomer Noah Lomax, Biel believably connects with Butler. It is a connection that is natural, easy and interesting. Even the nicely done soccer moms -- Catherine Zeta-Jones and Judy Greer -- work. The breakdown comes from a side plot with Dennis Quaid and Uma Thurman as a rich couple pushing George into the middle of a personal and not-so-interesting squabble.

Playing for Keeps has one positive and a bunch of predictable negatives. The soccer star trying to reestablish a relationship with his son worked. The chemistry between Butler and Lomax helps. As mentioned earlier, they click. So do Butler and Biel.

Though long past this, I was a single dad who continually disappointed his kids on things that really count because of the self-absorbed focus of succeeding, doing more, getting better and finding the next great woman to share it with. That angle of Playing for Keeps stung and scored points.

The rest does not.

Director: Gabriele Muccino

Stars: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman, Judy Greer, Noah Lomax

Mr. Movie rating: 2 1/2 stars

Rated PG-13 for mature themes, some language. It's playing at the Carmike 12, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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