In the spirit of the last-minute holiday scramble, here’s a father-son heart-tugger wrapped around a mushy reconciliation rom-com sprinkled with the tinsel of shiny Hollywood supporting stars acting like they’re in another movie entirely.
In “Playing For Keeps,” Gerard Butler plays a retired Scottish soccer superstar, “King George” Dryer, now 56 and well past his prime, out of work and living in the Virginia hometown of his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) to be closer to their young son. Seeing his son’s youth soccer team struggling, he reluctantly agrees to become their new coach.
This inspires the kids and thrills their moms, a sexed-up group of assorted minxes who are quite smitten by George’s scruffy brogue, messy hair and buffed body.
The lusty ladies include Catherine Zeta-Jones as a former broadcast personality who’s not above using her connections to get her legs wrapped around George. Uma Thurman is a rich socialite driven to extramarital exploration by her adulterous husband (Dennis Quaid). Judy Greer plays an emotionally needy divorcee prone to teary outbursts and stalking.
All three of these women are fine, credentialed actresses, and it’s depressing to watch them in such one-dimensional parts with one thing on their one-track minds, chasing George and trailing clothes and dignity in the process. It’s supposed to be funny, but there’s something about it that’s just sad.
Meanwhile, there’s the whole “heart” of the story, the question of whether or not George will get back together with his ex-wife, Stacie, who’s planning the final stages of her upcoming wedding to her new beau (James Tupper from TV’s “Revenge” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” in another dismally under-developed part).
Biel fares better than any other female in the movie, thank goodness. At least she gets a backstory, shows some resistance to George’s meathead charm, and has moments that let her draw on emotional depths that the rest of the movie doesn’t even try to reach.
Young Noah Lomax has several TV roles to his credits but makes his movie debut as George and Stacie’s freckle-faced son, Lewis. He has several “awwww” moments, but the real draw of this chick flick is clearly Butler, who makes the women of the audience wait almost three quarters of the way through the movie before he walks out of a bathroom in a towel, showing off his abs.
“Playing For Keeps” has too many characters with too little to do. It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a randy bedroom-hopping romp, a madcap romantic-misunderstanding rumpus, a touching drama about a dad and his son, or a quest for reunited love — all revolving around a soccer ball. And it squanders some upstanding actors and actresses in parts that don’t do them, or their resumes, any favors.
But for people who buy movie tickets based on the prospect of seeing Gerard Butler without a shirt, well, I suppose none of that really matters.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Playing For Keeps”
STARRING: Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel
DIRECTED BY: Gabriele Muccino
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes