Director: Gabriele Muccino
Cast: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, Dennis Quaid, Judy Greer, James Tupper, Iqbal Theba, Noah Lomax
RunTime: 1 hr 46 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Sexual References)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: http://www.playingforkeepsmovie.com/
Opening Day: 20 December 2012
Synopsis: A romantic comedy about a charming, down-on-his luck former soccer star (Butler) who returns home to put his life back together. Looking for a way to rebuild his relationship with his son, he gets roped into coaching the boy's soccer team. But his attempts to finally become an "adult" are met with hilarious challenges from the attractive "soccer moms" who pursue him at every turn.
This holiday season, as Playing for Keeps’s tagline so curiously pursues, what do you really want? Apparently, it’s a rumpled-haired Gerard Butler, seen here taking on bifurcating duties as a doting father who wants to make up for lost time with his son and an unlikely sex magnet for soccer mums after he agrees to coach his son’s ailing soccer team. At the benefit of the multiple-point premise, one would like to desperately believe that there’s a charming father-son tale somewhere. But what comes of Playing for Keeps is far worse than what one would imagine it to be, and it starts with the fact that the movie never really comes together in any sort of sensible manner.
Blame must be laid at the feet of director Gabriele Muccino, whose beleaguered execution of the material flips the movie awkwardly between sedate scenes of Butler’s devoted parent character doling out the typical sugar-coated words to his pint-sized son and outrageous shots of grown women shamelessly throwing themselves at him. Sentimental family drama or kitschy rom-com, the identity of Playing for Keeps is left hanging by the thinnest of threads as neither side is given the full development it deserves. Butler’s parenthood comeback is hardest hit by the lack of focus, distracted by countless cheap jokes and robbed of valuable depth.
It’s a shame because the chemistry between Butler and his on-screen son is actually one of the movie’s best parts, matched only by the soulful interaction between him and his estranged wife, played here by Jessica Biel. Seeing Butler rekindle his relationship with the mother-son pair is nothing short of a heartwarming experience, and suffice to say that only a well-conceived solution can prevent the family from moving on again without him. Unfortunately, buying into that solution can feel strange as you aren’t treated to nearly enough backstory to be sure that the solution isn’t simply a stop-gap measure to keep his wife and son. In a sense, you’re required to suspend a certain level of belief to really appreciate the movie.
The same cannot be said for the rest of the movie, because down the road lies true madness. Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman all play crazy-about-sex soccer mums delineated with a flair for ignoring logic. Greer is Barb, an emotionally depraved divorcee who cannot seem to stop begging Butler to call her. Zeta-Jones is Denise, a former sportscaster who is ready to offer Butler a position at ESPN in a sex-for-contract scheme. Thurman, as a clad-in-lingerie Patti, eagerly awaits Butler on his bed. The actresses don’t embarrass themselves, but one would like to think they’d be the first to admit that they’re merely making terrible, one-note characters look less dysfunctional than they already are.
As forgettable as these soccer mums may be, one thing they have going for is being entertaining. And entertaining is what I want to leave the review with. Playing for Keeps may not have the sharp focus needed to make its family drama work wonders, but its easy humour will most certainly scatter bouts of laughter across the cinema hall. Alas, the movie can feel more than a little tonally confused at times and it’s hard to pinpoint what was intended to be achieved here. It really begets the question: How can you know what you really want when the movie doesn’t even know it really wants? Apparently, Playing for Keeps doesn’t give you the answer to its question.
(Playing for Keeps doesn’t really know whether it wants to be a sentimental family drama or kitschy rom-com, but it’s at least charming and entertaining in parts)
Review by Loh Yong Jian