SYNOPSIS: A former soccer star with no prospects tries desperately to reconnect with his son and soon-to-be remarried ex-wife. When he has the chance to spend more time with his son by coaching his soccer team, he finds himself dealing with lustful soccer moms and quirky dads.
REVIEW: Seven Pounds and The Pursuit of Happyness director Gabriele Muccino takes on the romantic comedy genre with dashing Gerard Butler and sexy girl next door Jessica Biel. Robbie Fox, writer of the 1993 So I Married an Axe Murderer, returns as a scribe after an eighteen hiatus, begging the question of whether soccer and family can mix.
George (Gerard Butler, Chasing Mavericks) was a famous soccer striker in his youth, until an injury sidelined him and stole away his prospects in the sport. Today, he moves into a guest house in Virginia to be closer to his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel, Hitchcock) and son Lewis (Noah Lomax, The Middle). Struggling to make ends meet and to become a quality father to Lewis, George takes in the challenge of coaching his son's wayward soccer team. With the kids in the team engaged with the sport, George finds himself having to deal with lustful divorcees in the form of soccer mom Barb (Judy Greer, Jeff, Who Lives at Home), married women Denise (Cathrine Zeta-Jones, Rock of Ages), and a rich, jealous husband Carl (Dennis Quaid, The Words) who cheats on his wife Patty (Uma Thurman, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) but lives by his own double standards. George may have been able to handles the stresses of World Cup play, but his chance to make good with his son and to make peace with his soon-to-be remarried ex-wife may prove too much to endure.
Chiseled, scruffy, and dashing Gerard Butler made a name for himself with the theatricalPhantom of the Opera and 300, leading to roles in a string of so-so romantic comedies and decent action films. He provides one of the voices to the successful How to Train Your Dragon films and the gritty Machine Gun Preacher. Following up the zen surfer Chasing Mavericks drama, Butler continues with a more semi-serious romantic film to finish out the year.
Jessica Biel, fresh off her limited released of the Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren film Hitchcock, has been successful in mixing up her resume with action, horror, and romance. Both make the most of the film and their characters, with Butler as the immature womanizer and Jessica as the woman who had to give up her love affair with a sports star in order to move on with her life to raise their son by herself.
Butler and Biel are cast with several A-listers including Thurman, Quaid, and Zeta-Jones. But the real show stealer is Judy Greer as soccer mom divorcee Barb. Sure, Thurman and Zeta-Jones are sexy and flirty as heck, but Greer's Barb is brilliant as the seemingly bi-polar emotional wreck that finds solace in Butler's George. Dennis Quaid plays a neurotic jealous husband who walks the line between a good guy and a bad guy. Either way, Butler's George should have probably given Quaid's Carl a wider berth.
The story is solid enough, but formulaic. Characters are introduced and used, except Greer's superior performance, just as plot devices to throw at George. They serve their purpose well enough, but each piece hangs out to flap in the wind afterward. And the believability factor suffers a little bit when George's appearance at Lewis' practice turns into a soccer clinic and the complete turnaround of a losing bunch of kids to championship material. The story of George, his son Lewis, and ex-wife Stacie works to a greater degree, focusing on George's attempt to reconcile and better his relationship with both of them.
Playing for Keeps is a pleasant semi-dramatic romantic comedy. Anyone who can relate to divorced parents trying to reconcile for the sake of a child will appreciate what this film is trying to achieve. There is sexiness, bare chests, and charisma for most, and the campiness and hijinks of the soccer moms interested in George does take away from the more serious story between George, Stacie, and Lewis.
Playing for Keeps is a cute flick that will entertain moviegoers in the mood for a light dramatic romantic comedy. Butler and Biel have plenty of chemistry to go along with perfect smiles and beautiful features. Is this film nothing but the back of the net? You decide.
★ ★ 1/2 out of 5 buckets | Rental
Rated: PG-13 - Some sexual situations, language and a brief intense image.
Release Date: December 7, 2012
Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Writers: Robbie Fox
Cast: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman, Noah Lomax, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Tupper, Judy Greer