For most of its length, “Playing for Keeps” inhabits an idyllic world where the weather is sunny, the cars are red Ferraris, and the soccer moms are Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Needless to say, this is not a documentary. It is a sports-themed romantic comedy – but an odd one in the sense that it shows little interest in sports, not much more interest in romance, and for very long stretches seems to forget about laughs altogether.
The movie spends most of its time showing beautiful rich people dealing with the kind of problems that others play Powerball in hopes of acquiring.
Despite its PG-13 rating, it seems aimed more at a date-night audience than at kids. Its tone strives more for “Bull Durham” than “Bad News Bears,” although it isn’t in the same league as either. Nor the same sport.
“Playing for Keeps” could have worked with any sport, but soccer helps set it apart from other similar movies. It allows for pretty pastoral shots of cute little boys and girls playing together. And it accommodates star Gerard Butler’s Scottish accent.
Butler’s character, George, like the male lead in so many sports comedies before him, is drafted into the role of coaching a youth sports team. And with that taken care of, the movie is free to meander to topics away from the soccer pitch.
The primary issue is George trying to create a new life after his career as a professional soccer player. But not fully new: He also wants to reunite with his ex-wife (Biel) and cute freckly son (Noah Lomax).
There are complications. The ex-wife is engaged. The son has trust issues.
Several soccer moms make their plays for the new coach. And then there’s Dennis Quaid, who makes a good early impression as a wildly corrupt soccer dad before largely disappearing from the movie.
Those various plot points lead to the inevitable big game. However, this movie’s disinterest in its soccer element is such that we wouldn’t have any clue that it is a big game, except that George says so before the match. And then the result is mostly upstaged by an odd slapstick moment when director Gabriele Muccino and writer Robbie Fox apparently remembered that Quaid had once been in the movie and needed to return.
This provides one of the bigger laughs in a movie that otherwise is willing to wait for its moments of humor. It may, in fact, wait with greater patience than its audience will. However, when the punch lines do roll around, they register as funny in a real-world kind of way.
In the end, the title doesn’t refer to the stakes of a soccer match, but to the stakes of holding a family together. And in that area, the film sticks pretty close to formula along the way to its romantic resolution. ‘Playing for Keeps’
* * *
Cast: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Judy Greer, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Running time: 1:35
Rated: PG-13; sexual situations, language, brief intense imageDon Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt