Film Review: For a romantic comedy, ‘Playing’ doesn’t score

Film Review: For a romantic comedy, ‘Playing’ doesn’t score
Jessica Biel, Noah Lomax and Gerard Butler in “Playing For Keeps,’ directed by Gabriele Muccino. Photo courtesy of Dale Robinette

“Playing for Keeps” is mildly diverting in its attempt to elicit those feel-good emotions we expect to experience in a romantic comedy, but a combination of aimless storytelling and underdeveloped characters causes it to miss scoring a goal by a huge margin. 

I’m no fan of romantic comedies and never will be; the genre has failed to pique my long-term interest 95 percent of the time. Although I have no problem with a rare exception crossing my path, such titles are hard to come by and even harder to watch more than once.

When I first heard about “Playing for Keeps,” I didn’t necessarily feel prejudiced toward it, but I wasn’t enthusiastic either. If anything, the choice of cast convinced me to give this film a chance in spite of its relatively weak story.

After playing for this team, I can safely say my time here is done. I’m not saying the film is terrible to the extent of being on the must-avoid list, and I’m not saying it fits the textbook definition of decent.

George Dryer (Gerard Butler) used to be one of the world’s most renowned professional soccer players. He has since fallen on hard times, and to make matters worse, his relationships with both his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) and his son (Noah Lomax) are showing little signs of improvement. In hopes of getting his life together and finding redemption, George decides to take over as the new coach of his son’s soccer team. His attempts to rebuild himself, however, do not come without challenges, and in this case, the challenges he meets appear in the form of three attractive soccer moms (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, and Judy Greer), who pursue him at every chance they get.

Director Gabriele Muccino needs to work on finding a sense of direction if he intends to have a career in Hollywood. He may have impressed us with “The Pursuit of Happyness,” but that was six years ago. “Playing for Keeps” could have been a good film; instead, it achieves a strictly average score.

OK, so I get that Butler’s character has hit a bump in the road and his familial relationships have reached a low point; I wanted to see this story arc realize its potential. There were moments where I got what I wished for, and the dynamic between Butler, Biel and Lomax feels genuine for the sake of keeping the emotions real. Each soccer match was punctuated by quiet conversations, establishing a fairly strong human element I’d hoped would continue to grow. Alas, that does not become the case.

The film loses its kick by several notches when three of the soccer moms become involved in the new coach’s personal life. I kept wondering to myself if there were too many women to juggle into the film’s 106-minute running time or if their presence was simply unnecessary.

Catherine Zeta-Jones handles her scenes as the temptress mom with halfhearted effort, coming off as a tad too out of touch with what’s happening around her.

Judy Greer wasn’t given enough to do as the divorcee mom; she had energy that didn’t get put to use. In contrast, Uma Thurman’s frustrated housewife/mom wasn’t needed at all, and the fact that Dennis Quaid as her paranoid sleazeball of a husband does pretty much nothing to move the story along makes you wonder why she even bothers to show her face (and her body) in an already weak romantic comedy in the first place.

If you ask me, it seems as if “Playing for Keeps” had a hard time trying to decide whether the story should focus on the sports element or the family aspect or the love life.

In the end, none of these components mingle well enough to guarantee the film’s internal stability. Even the flashes of decent scenes can’t save something that has already been deemed half-decent.

“Playing for Keeps” was not bad, but it lacks the direction required to go from being mediocre to good. But is it worth the price of an admission ticket? My answer is this: rent it.

 

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