I’ll give Playing For Keeps credit for one slightly interesting stray from convention. When the Big Game in this soccer-centric movie comes, and the protaganist’s team (spoiler alert?) wins, it ends up a complete disaster rather than a moment of triumph. Other than that, there isn’t a truly original moment, and if a movie isn’t going to bother with originality in its storyline, it sure better be chockfull of delightful characters and dialogue.
Playing For Keeps hopes to skate by on the charms of Gerard Butler, or more accurately, the charms of Butler’s native Scottish accent. Here he plays George Dryer, who was a moderately-big-deal soccer player in Europe and the MLS, but is now retired, washed-up and unable to make his rent on a guest house in a suburban Virginia neighborhood. He’s living there to be near his American ex-wife and young son, and has a longshot hope of landing a job as a sportscaster.
The reasons given for why George and Stacie (Jessica Biel) are no longer together are vague references to his inability to “grow up” and his lack of taking his fatherly duties seriously. The two of them are so obviously still in love with one another that it’s excruciating to have to sit through another hour and a half of the film pretending they might remain separated.
But apart they must stay, or the running time would be significantly shorter. So Stacie has a fiancé (James Tupper), and George has the opportunity to sleep with a string of mothers of the other children on his son’s soccer team. (How’d they get Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and the always funny Judy Greer to agree to these thankless roles?) In his heart, though, he wants nothing more than to have his family back again.
At one point I discovered myself literally twiddling my thumbs to combat the boredom as this film’s contrived machinations lumbered onward. The script is full of flat-footed attempts at broad comedy. Particularly painful in its un-funniness is a scene in which Uma Thurman’s Patti strips down to her underthings, sneaks into George’s bedroom, and throws herself at him. He’s only able to resist because he knows Patti’s crazily jealous husband (Dennis Quaid) has hired a P.I. to track her every move. What seems like the set-up for a promising moment of sex farce fizzles as Patti slips quietly out.
I knew then I’d have been better off slipping quietly out of the theater myself.