Playing for Keeps

Romantic comedies should be money in the bank for studios.  Yes, there is often location shooting—but no expensive set construction, special effects, or action sequences.  Other than some $10 a day walk-by extras for street scenes, there is no cast of thousands, and you typically need only shell out some bucks for one or two big names, so cast costs are not that expensive.  All you need is a romantic premise, a script that makes the characters likable (preferably with a couple of memorable one-liners), and a director that understands these genre limitations.  Alas, Gabriele Muccino’s “Playing For Keeps” fails on all counts.

“Playing For Keeps” tells the story of George, a former star soccer player struggling with earning a living and putting his life in order.  He has left his native UK to come to Virginia to rekindle his relationship with his ex-wife Stacie, and son, Lewis.  But he has to woo her away from her fiancé and he has nothing to offer her—no job, no expectation of a job, and lousy parenting skills.  But as fate would have it, he begins coaching Lewis’ soccer team and develops a real camaraderie with the kids—and their mothers.  Meanwhile, he is pursuing a career in sports broadcasting.  But will his pursuit of a career prevent him from being a real father?  Will he win back his ex-wife, or win a new spouse from among his now adoring soccer mom fans?

The cast does an adequate job with an inadequate script.  Gerard Butler (“The Bounty Hunter,”  “The Ugly Truth”) has the personality (and Scottish accent) to be a romantic comedy leading man, but fails to deliver as the sketchily-written George.  Jessica Biel (“Total Recall”) is barely on screen as the bland Stacie; the audience keeps asking itself what George sees in her and never really gets an acceptable answer.  Uma Thurman (“The Producers”), Catherine Zeta-Jones (“No Reservations”), and Judy Greer (“27 Dresses”) play the soccer moms lusting after George.  Their presence and star power make the movie attractive, but what should be delicious double-entendre filled dialogue and comic twists never appear.  Dennis Quaid (“The Words”) plays a jealous husband in typical over-the-top form.  The cast is rounded out by newcomer Noah Lomax as the adorable Lewis.

“Playing For Keeps” has no idea what kind of a movie it should be.  While the script is certainly at fault, with absolutely no memorable lines, Director Gabriele Muccino (“Seven Pounds”) is the real culprit in this debacle of a film.  Truly comic scenes involving the luscious ladies pursuing George are paced and filmed so boringly as to lose all comedic or romantic impact.

Of the many problems with the screenplay, other than some emotional baggage about the soccer moms, and some drama with George struggling with his role as a father, there is no character development.  This is most apparent in the insipid character of Stacie, the least desirable of the females in the film.  The bottom line is that while George is likable in a pity-induced way, none of the four female leads, while physically beautiful, are romantically attractive.

“Playing For Keeps” is a movie that looked good on paper, with attractive stars and an interesting premise.  But the pairing of screen writer Robbie Fox (“So I Married an Axe Murderer”) and Director Gabriele Muccino is devastating: their visions of the movie clearly did not match up and the audience is left wondering what the point is.  It’s not a feel good movie.  It’s not romantic.  It’s not funny.  It is occasionally dramatic.  Which means “Playing For Keeps” is boring, and ultimately, forgettable.

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