A small list of blurbs you will most likely not find plastered on the print ads for “Playing for Keeps” anytime soon: “Horrible!” “Charmless!” “One of the year’s worst!” “Eh, it was OK.” (The last one was me.)
Slightly more entertaining than that interchangeably dull title would have you believe, “Playing for Keeps” is, essentially, “Generic Gerard Butler Romantic Comedy Vol. VII.” Butler, no stranger to bad romcoms (fellow Film Geek Central critic Austin Kennedy credits Butler’s “The Bounty Hunter” as the film that almost cost him his passion for moviegoing), is a likable enough actor, but please, let me call in sick the next time I’m slated to sit through another tediously plotted comedy in which Butler and Attractive Actress, Exhibit G surreptitiously run through the motions of low-grade romantic comedy expectations.
The motions in “Playing for Keeps” find Butler as an estranged single father who has moved back to town in the hopes of rekindling ties with his son and former wife (Jessica Biel), who has moved on. A former soccer star, Butler takes a gig coaching his son’s pee-wee soccer games hoping to get closer to his son, but mostly it just gets him closer to the beds of a number of hot-and-horny single mom-types played by a wide array of overqualified supporting actresses (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer, Uma Thurman). Dennis Quaid is also involved, but his storyline is so putrid I almost don’t even want to mention him.
Basically, “Playing for Keeps” tries mixing a lot of that farcical sex comedy stuff with much more serious-minded family drama stuff and, predictably, it doesn’t take. For example, I can buy the idea that Butler is a cad and, in real life, I’m sure plenty of women do throw themselves at him. But not for one second do I believe he would be nailing all these chicks while trying to rekindle things with his ex who, as played by Biel in her most frumpy ever, seems smart enough not to fall for Butler’s tricks the first time, let alone ever again.
The most troubling aspect about the movie is that, despite its deficiencies, it remains sunny and cheerful for most of its running time, so it’s not like you’ll be miserable watching all of the elements fall predictably into place. In fact, I wasn’t even sure how I felt about the movie until I was discussing it with my fiancee on the drive home. What we collectively discerned about the movie was this: Gerard Butler is an amiable actor who makes poor choices in scripts. Jessica Biel is not believable as a frump. Uma Thurman is terrible in this. And not for one second would everything end up the way it ends up at the denouement.
All in all, “Playing for Keeps” is far from a keeper. I’m sure that won’t appear on any print ads any time soon, either.
★★ (out of ★★★★)
Rated PG-13 for language and sex jokes. 105 minutes.
Director: Gabriele Muccino. Starring: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel.