Playing for Keeps

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

George Dryer (Gerard Butler) is a former professional soccer player who is largely seen as a “has been”. His attempts to raise money by selling his former game memorabilia and become a sports announcer are largely met with ambivalence. George’s relationship with his son Lewis (Noah Lomax) is equally unsuccessful due to him only seeing Lewis sporadically. When he discovers that his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel) is getting married to her boyfriend Matt (James Tupper), George grows despondent.

After dropping off an audition tape of him practicing his sports announcements, George goes to help his son’s soccer team practice. The team isn’t very good, with the coach giving little attention to his players. The team’s parents quickly pressure Stacie to ask George to become the new coach, which he reluctantly agrees to. Once coach, George attracts the attentions of various mothers and receives a bribe from Carl King (Dennis Quaid), who wants him to give his children preferential treatment. He specifically draws attention from the divorced Barb (Judy Greer), ex-sportscaster Denise (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and Carl’s wife Patti (Uma Thurman). Denise appears to be particularly forward with George, sending him an e-mail telling him that she’s thinking of him.

At practice the next day George is invited to a dinner party at Carl’s house, is approached by Barb, and is also told by Denise that she has been given a copy of his audition tape to watch and pass along. At Carl’s party George learns that Carl has been having affairs and that his wife is aware of his infidelities, unbeknownst to Carl. Carl then lends George a Ferrari under the implication that he “takes care of his friends”, which George uses to drive to see Stacie. The two discuss what could have developed between the two of them, to which Stacie says that she doesn’t wonder about the past anymore.

When he gets home, he discovers Barb waiting for him. She confesses that she’s very lonely and has set up a dating profile in order to find a match. After asking him if he finds her attractive, the two sleep together. The following day George is called by Carl, who asks him to pick up some money from Patti in order to bail him out of jail, as he got into a fight at the party. Doing so makes him late to pick up his son, but he manages to entertain Lewis by letting him ride in his lap and drive the Ferrari. During this time George discovers that Lewis is sad that his mother is marrying Matt and that he won’t call Matt “dad”. George is then called by Denise, who informs him that ESPN is looking for a new soccer sportscaster and that he must come to the studio to record a tape. This enrages Staci and Lewis due to him being late to pick up Lewis again, weakening his relationship with the both of them.

Arriving home, George is berated by his landlord Param (Iqbal Theba) for not paying his rent while driving a Ferrari and receives a call from Patti, telling him that she’s in his bed. He soon finds that she’s in the landlord’s bed and George manages to distract the landlord by paying him with Carl’s bribe money. Despite this, Patti continues to approach George sexually, who rebuffs her while saying that she should leave Carl rather than having an affair. His relationship with Lewis worsens when Denise kisses George the next day, leading Lewis to realize why his father was late. This spurs Lewis into having a fight during a game later on, prompting Lewis to tell his mother that he wants to quit playing soccer. George manages to later coax Lewis into playing soccer in the rain, which both of them finds fun. Meanwhile Stacie and George begin to reconnect romantically, which causes small rifts in her relationship with Matt.

George manages to earn the job with ESPN, but this necessitates him moving across the country to Connecticut. He asks Stacie to come with him. She initially refuses, but then he meets her at her car and she kisses him. At the game later that same day, George finds that Barb has begun to date his landlord and that Carl has discovered pictures of Patti in George’s house from the time she came on to him. The two men begin to fight, which Staci witnesses. Staci sees the pictures, which upsets her despite George claiming that it wasn’t what it looked like. During the fight, Lewis’s team wins the game.

After the game George leaves for his new job. In the end George chooses to stay with Lewis rather than moving to Connecticut. He also begins a new relationship with Stacie, who has broken off her engagement with Matt, and becomes a local sportscaster in Virginia with his friend Chip.

REVIEW:

One of my very best friends has a little bit of a crush on Gerard Butler. I’m sure since Playing for Keeps was filmed up there in Shreveport/Bossier City she did all she could to at least get a glimpse of her future husband. For the rest of us, though, could Butler make us care about a romantic comedy that deals with soccer?

What is this about?

A washed-up, former soccer star attempts to rebuild his relationship with his son and ex-wife by coaching his son’s soccer team. His plan to reconnect with his family is met with challenges from the attractive soccer moms who pursue him everywhere.

What did I like?

Soccer. Look, like most Americans, soccer is not on my radar. As a kid, though, I seem to remember wanting to play it…until I was introduced to football and girls (ironically, that was the same time that I moved down here to Louisiana…coincidence, perhaps?) The feeling that I got from the kids, when they were winning, is that same sense of wonder. If soccer, as a sport could manage to bottle that up and sell it, maybe it would be able to be a major sport in this country.

Leonidas. Gerard Butler always has been a charismatic guy. He just happens to have an agent that makes bad choices. This may not have been one of his best, but is wasn’t his worst. As a retired soccer player and divorced dad seeking to reconcile with his wife and son, he shows a great range of emotion towards them. Throw in the love of soccer that comes out when he starts with the kids and you can see why he fit this role so perfectly.

For the guys. Romantic comedies aren’t known for being geared towards men. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a male driven film, even if Butler is the star. However, the soccer moms fawning all over him and ESPN are obvious ploys to appeal to the male demographic. Did they work? I’m not so sure, but at least they tried.

What didn’t I like?

Soccer moms. Many guys dream of landing a hot soccer mom. If you look like Gerard Butler, then I suppose you can end up with 3. My issue with them has to do with casting. Nothing against the actresses, but the soccer moms I’ve seen aren’t exactly supermodels like these women, let alone the fact that they seemed to love their kids one minute and then totally ignore them the next.

Bitter. I don’t know what it is, but it seems like every scene involving Jessica Biel had her doing some kind of mean-spirited face towards Butler, or being bitterly spiteful towards him. Sure, her actions could have been worse. She was at least mostly congenial towards him, but there still was no need for her to look so bitter most of the time.

Predictable. Once the film established the characters and their relationships towards each other, you can pretty much guess what is going to happen, especially since this is a romantic comedy. Would I have liked something a bit more random? I don’t rightly know if I can say that, but I do wish that this could have distanced itself from such a predictable way of playing things out.

These days, it seems that Gerard Butler is doing nothing but rom-coms. He isn’t bad in them, but the guy is better suited for action. The whole time I was watching Playing for Keeps I couldn’t help but feel that he was in pain the whole time, knowing he could do much better. With that in mind, I cannot, in good conscience recommend this. Sure, it has its moments and isn’t totally horrible, but it just seemed like they dug out every former A-list actor that hadn’t had a hit in the last couple of years and slapped them in here with mediocre results. Not a film to totally avoid, but don’t go out of your way to see it. I’m sure it will pop up on television in the next year or two.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

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