Movie Review: 'Playing For Keeps,' or Playing Audience for Fools?

If a shaggy guy with a Scottish burr is your cup of tea, pull up a chair for this attempt at a romantic comedy.

"Playing For Keeps" tries to answer the vexing question: what's a worn out Scottish soccer star to do? If you're George Dyer (Gerard Butler), you move to a Virginia suburb, home to your pre-teen son (Noah Lomax) and your ex-wife (Jennifer Biel), now engaged, and you try to break into sportscasting. In the meantime, you become the coach of your estranged son's soccer team, whose sponsor is played by Dennis Quaid, and you learn how to handle the soccer moms (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman and Judy Greer). Then you decide that your ex-wife really is the woman of your dreams and you begin to pursue her.

Could voicing a character in "How to Train Your Dragon" be a more memorable role for Butler? Here's what the critics are saying:

Some movies are 100 percent polyester, yet the right actors can make the material breathe a little so that the audience wears the experience comfortably for a couple of hours. Opening this month, the Barbra Streisand/Seth Rogen vehicle "The Guilt Trip" belongs to that poly-genre.
And then there's "Playing for Keeps," which is more of a manure-poly blend. The romantic comedy stars Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman, a bizarrely twitchy Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Judy Greer. Only Biel and Greer lift it above the level of bleh. Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“Does he make you laugh? I mean, really make you laugh?” George asks Stacie, trying to clinch the foregone argument that she really belongs back with him. It’s a curious question, since George mostly makes her cry, and also because Mr. Butler is among the least naturally funny actors in film comedy today. George facetiously tells his landlord (Iqbal Theba) that the secret to his success with women is “the accent,” and that may be true of Mr. Butler as well. His growly burr certainly adds to the shaggy charm, at once laid-back and aggressive, that he projects here.
What he cannot seem to do is to convey any sense of the emotional stakes, but this may also be the fault of an all-over-the-place script (by Robbie Fox) and of Gabriele Muccino’s uneven direction. Sometimes the movie swerves toward farce, sometimes into the zone of smiley family comedy and at other times into full-on weepiness. None of it is especially credible or engaging. A.O. Scott, The New York Times

There’s not a moment of surprise in the listless screenplay by Robbie Fox (whose biggest credits are “So I Married an Axe Murderer” and “In the Army Now”). But both leads evoke a hard-won pragmatism that runs stubbornly counter to the frothy action and chipper score.Similarly, Quaid offers a memorable portrait of a suburban big shot whose expensive toys mask his deep insecurity. But Thurman never figures her character out, and Greer and Zeta-Jones are wasted in disposable roles.
Perhaps, if this movie fails, studios will finally accept that we all deserve better. Biel knows it already, and Butler keeps up in their scenes together.
Their honest depiction of the complexities of life and love, though out of place in such a counterfeit setting, provides the movie’s only truly interesting element. Here’s hoping the new rom-com formula keeps those flashes of intelligence, and stops playing us for fools. Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News.


"Playing for Keeps is showing at Beechwood Stadium 11 and Carmike Cinemas 12. The 75-minute movie is rated PG-13.

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Emma Perry December 09, 2012 at 01:29 AM
Thanks for this review. I’ve wanted to see Playing For Keeps since I first saw the trailer, but the reviews I’ve read have been mostly negative. A couple of my DISH co-workers invited me to go see it with them this weekend, but I don’t think I want to spend my money on it. I’m planning to add it to my Blockbuster @ Home queue instead, since I have that through my DISH account. That way it’ll just show up in my mailbox once it’s out on DVD and I won’t have to go out of my way to seek it out. Plus, when I’m done watching it, I can return it to the Blockbuster store down the street from my apartment for another movie in my queue. Everything about it is so convenient.
Sharon Swanepoel December 09, 2012 at 01:36 AM
Glad we could help Emma. It does seem that very few people found this movie worthwhile. That's unfortunate, but I'm glad you have the convenience of Blockbuster just down the street.


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