Playing For Keeps

Director: Gabriele Muccino.

Starring: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Quaid, Judy Greer, Uma Thurman, Iqbal Theba, Noah Lomax.

Running Time: 100 minutes.

Certificate: 12.

Synopsis: Ex-footballer George is trying to sort his life out when he decides to coach his infant son’s soccer team. His ex-wife Stacie is pleased to see him spend time with their kid, but all the soccer moms are pleased to see him for different reasons. Sexy reasons. Can George grow up enough to get his life together? Probably.

Imagine MRS DOUBTFIRE without the laughs and without the dragging up, then cross it with the Robin Askwith CONFESSIONS movies from the 1970s. Add an all-star cast, who really deserve better, and you’ve got PLAYING FOR KEEPS. A soppy, family-friendly sex comedy that doesn’t quite know what it wants to do and ends up wasting your time.

Gerard Butler plays George, the hunky ex-footballer who has every woman in Christendom catapulting themselves at his crotch, except for his ex-wife Stacie (Biel). George takes his son to ‘soccer’ practise where he decides he could coach the kid’s team to glory, and all the soccer moms decide they want him to tackle them roughly from behind. Apart from Stacie, who spends the first two thirds of the film rolling her eyes at her unreliable (but undeniably hunky) former hubby.

Though Butler and Biel’s characters develop believably enough, it’s actually their son Lewis (Lomax) who is the emotional core of the film and is surprisingly likeable. But this is an ensemble piece that is lucky enough to have some real talent involved. And boy is it wasted. The 300 actor does his best, but it’s difficult to sympathise with a beautiful, ex-millionaire who can’t keep it in his trousers. Biel is alright, but everything (that’s EVERYTHING ) she does is fitted around the males in her life; her fiancee, her son and her ex-hubby. Biel has really grown as an actor over the last few years, but this won’t help her any.

Thurman, Zeta-Jones and Greer all play the wealthy mums who are drawn in by the tractor beam of Butler’s balls. And here’s the problem; this would be fine if the female characters were well rounded, if they had agency over their desire and were the sexual protagonists who know what they want. However, they are so one dimensional that all we know about them is that they cannot resist the new Dilf. Thurman plays the constantly tipsy wife of alpha-douche Carl (Quaid) and knows he’s cheating but stays for the good life. Zeta-Jones is Denise, the former sports anchor who will give George a shot at television sports punditry IF she can have a shot at him and Greer plays Barb, a tear-stained-pillow of a woman who just needs to get laid to feel better about herself. This hollow, borderline misogynistic treatment of women is where the film cracks so severely, as Geroge goes all Confessions of a Soccer Coach and the film descends into farce. They act only as tools for Butler’s character development and are by no means interesting in their own right, and with fine actors filling their shoes, that’s a darn shame.

Incidentally, the amount of times they say soccer got on my tits. Fair do’s, it’s set in America and that’s what they call it, but George is Scottish. He played in the Premier League and in Europe. He would call it footy or football, but never soccer, yet he refers to it as nothing else. Just a minor niggle, but a consistent one.

Over all, PLAYING FOR KEEPS is soppy, a tiny bit troubling, tonally all over the place and not very funny. There are a couple of good gags, both from kids in the ‘soccer’ team, and both in the trailer. A snigger or two may escape, and if you like well toned men being fatherly, then you’ll have much to enjoy from Mr Butler. Generally though, you won’t enjoy much else.

Extras: Two ‘Making Of’ featurettes in which the cast verbally felt each other and some pointless deleted/extended scenes. And the DVD cover is quite spoilery. Now let us never speak of this again.

2 Stars PLAYING FOR KEEPS is out on DVD and Blu-Ray on Monday 20th May