Playing for Keeps

Playing for Keeps

Directed by: Gabriele Muccino
Cast: Gerard Butler, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, Dennis Quaid, Judy Greer
Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins
Rating: PG-13
Release Date: December 7, 2012

PLOT: A former soccer player (Butler) coaches his young son’s soccer team, but is distracted by the cougars (Zeta-Jones, Thurman, Greer) on the sidelines.

WHO’S IT FOR? Parents who deserve better on their night away from the kids.

OVERALL

Gerard Butler just wants to talk, baby. He just wants to sit you down in a dark movie theater and tell you with his Scottish chipmunk cheeks, “Hey girl, those scumbags I’ve played before? That’s not me. Those women I’ve created an unsympathetic onscreen persona with? It’s them, not me. I’m only about making you happy – and the kids. I may be muscular and ridiculously good looking, but this hard body has a soft spot for you, baby.”

This is a Ryan Gosling meme-esque condensing of Playing for Keeps, a feeble romantic comedy. This movie is more fitting for a flick dump month like February than the time of year when any movie could at be considered a possible award contender because it comes out in December (and this one especially, as it is directed by Gabriele Muccino of the previously Oscar-nominated The Pursuit of Happyness). But at any time of year, a movie like  ` would rightfully be considered a wasteful multiplex venture.

Produced by Butler, Playing for Keeps is pathetically out of touch with its audience, and not just because it tries to negotiate Butler’s insistence of being recognized for his apparently undeniable sex appeal with the image of being a good father. In the first list of grievances against this disagreeable movie, soccer is simply not an athletic activity that not many Americans could give a hoot about, never mind would they find themselves revering soccer players (unless they marry Spice Girls, so David Beckham does get name-dropped in this movie). Somewhere on the list of “Sports Americans Care About,” “soccer” is definitely towards the bottom, with “planking” and “being on the internet” above it. Which brings the question: Why soccer? Is it possible that Scottish actor Butler and Italian director Muccino stubbornly insisted on the sport being a centerpiece for the story, over something considered thoroughly American (and subsequently likely more box office friendly) such as baseball?

The focus of soccer proves to be solely useful for the fitting metaphor it provides for the movie’s supporting performances, full of hyper actors (Zeta-Jones, Quaid, and Thurman) looking to turn this insignificant moment into a pebble of gold (if not a career comeback), fighting for the attention of the audience like little ones chaotically clamoring for a rolling soccer ball. Thurman and Zeta-Jones each make a lunge for the title of the movie’s top cougar, with Thurman getting an extensive moment in her underwear, and Zeta-Jones adding as much sultriness to sideline chats between coach and parent as possible.

The champion of this supporting cast, however, is Quaid, who barrels through this movie with overt enthusiasm to win this film’s useless designation. In some glimmers of the story, his embodiment of a suburban dad hyper on his own insanity provides a couple of amusing giggles, much like his appearance in What To Expect When You’re Expecting from this past May, or Michael Shannon’s zealous villain in last August’s Premium Rush.

Butler’s compass for sympathy is still malfunctioning, as he apparently seems to be unaware that one just can’t have your hunk cake and eat it too. It’s quite a challenge to draw heavy attention to one’s sex appeal, then turn around and say that such is not one of your truer traits, and that one should be sympathized for such because his sex appeal is ultimately a burden. Michael Fassbender was able to pull this off with Steve McQueen’s 2011 film Shame, but certainly with the assistance of a dark story of sex addiction, where we pitied his character for his extreme sexual nature. This particular film, without even being compared to Shame, is the story of a burned-out bad dad who screwed up being a husband, and is now just considering capping his promiscuous ways.

Such a lack of attachment to Butler’s character becomes a strong factor in the emotionally empty experience of Playing for Keeps, a movie that prods along with its helping of dramatic moments (often involving Jessica Biel and tears that are believable enough). The weak comedic setups are ushered along as well, in this script that seems to be inspired most by predictability than the emotions it is attempting to put on display. Playing for Keeps, lacking spirit or a shred of sweetness, leaves audiences with nothing to root for – not the sport involved, not the happiness at stake, and especially not Butler.

FINAL SCORE: 3/10

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