Butler, Biel can't save misogynistic sports rom-comedy
"You're a ticking time bomb with an accent!" Stacie Dryer shouts at her Scottish ex-husband.
That works out nicely, considering that Gabriele Muccino's romantic sports comedy "Playing for Keeps" is a 97-minute time bomb with a misogynistic accent and artificially disseminated situations.
"Playing for Keeps"
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino
Other: A Film District release. Rated PG-13 for language, sexual situations. 95 minutes
The versatile Scottish actor Gerard Butler puts his natural brogue to good use as Stacie's ex, soccer star George Dryer.
In an opening montage, we see how Dryer captured sports fans' hearts before an injury sidelined his career.
Now 37, he lives in Virginia not far from Stacie (Jessica Biel) and their young soccer-playing son Lewis (Noah Lomax). We gather that Stacie split from George because of illegal use of hands, at least on other women.
The sagging economy has sucked up George's savings, leaving him with bills and a cute little Alfa Romeo that he can't afford to maintain.
George realizes he still loves Stacie, but she's scheduled to marry a dweeb named Matt.
Then George takes over coaching his son's soccer team. Two things happen. The kids on the team play better and their sexually starved single moms want to rack up some yardage with George.
Emo Barb (Judy Greer, pumping her character with far more charm than it deserves) can't stop blurting out her personal life to George, followed by crying jags and awkward hugging.
Sexy Denise (Catherine Zeta-Jones) adds an extra attraction to snare George's attentions. A former sportscaster, she might be able to get the former star an audition with ESPN as a commentator, George's dream job.
Then there's Carl, an obnoxious, superficial soccer dad played with alarming ickiness by Dennis Quaid, who treats his wife (Uma Thurman) terribly. He slips George an envelope filled with hundred dollar bills to ensure his son gets to be goalie and his daughter gets to sing the national anthem badly before games. George has no problem.
"Playing For Keeps" (originally called "Playing the Field") wants to be a misty-eyed father/son reunion story, and a sensitive romance, and a thrilling sports drama reaffirming that losers can become winners if they are lucky enough to have a hunky coach with a Scottish brogue.
But this soccer movie spends most of its time comically offsides and dramatically out of bounds.
Muccino returns to the manipulative tactics of his shabby, overreaching 2008 tale "Seven Pounds." His 2006 fact-based drama "The Pursuit of Happyness" presented a stronger father/son relationship, mainly because the real father/son team of Will Smith and Jaden Smith used their natural rapport to cover directorial shortcomings.
In "Playing For Keeps," Steve Conrad's screenplay doesn't bother with consistency.
Like when little Lewis sees his daddy kissing sexy Denise at practice, he goes ballistic, interpreting this as a betrayal against his mother.
"I hate soccer and I hate you!" he shouts at Dad. Until the next scene when Lewis inexplicably forgets about this so the story can continue.
Oh, and what happened to all that cash in the envelope? George uses some of it to pay his landlord, but he has lots left that you think will factor into the plot, but no.
Credit Conrad for at least avoiding the romantic triangle cliché of one guy turning out to be a heel or mass murderer so the woman can make an easy choice to go with the remaining suitor.
Still, James Tupper's Matt is such a zero-personality weenie that you wonder if she picked him out of a bad dating website, like mismatch.com or deharmony.com.
After scoring a goal with George, a satisfied single mom sends him an email, "Thanks for ending my slump!"
Unfortunately, Muccino remains in one.
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