A down on his luck former UK soccer star (Gerard Butler) moves to suburban America to be closer to his estranged son (Noah Lomax) and to reconnect with his wife, from whom he’s been separated for about three years, played by Jessica Biel.
“Yes, I had to force myself to sleep with most of these women in order to reunite with my wife and prove I could be a good husband and responsible father.”
Pop quiz, folks. “Playing for Keeps” is:
a. A romantic comedy
b. A father-son redemption story
c. An underdog sports film
d. A slow, unfocused, unfunny mess
e. All of the above
If your answer was “e,” then you’re correct! Playing for Keeps just doesn’t measure up to its forebears as a good romantic comedy. Hell, I’m still trying to figure out if it was supposed to be a comedy in the first place. Yes, it has some funny parts, but Steel Magnolias also has some funny parts, but it’s not largely thought of as a comedy by any means. This is also true for Playing for Keeps. The film, along with the audience, spends a good 95% of the runtime figuring out what it wants to do.
As the opening multiple choice question implies, the film really has three different narratives, all held together by duct tape. Everyone has their top three favorite flavors of ice cream, but they don’t necessarily mix them all together at once. People usually enjoy them separately, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. If the three narratives were separated and made into individual films, then those three films would have a decent chance of being good. Mixed together, they’re nearly unwatchable.
Its first misstep comes rather early on, while the film is still in your good graces. Logistically, it just doesn’t make sense that Butler’s character would be so completely broke as to not be able to afford a security deposit or pay his credit card bills, yet still not use (or be seen to be using) any of the thousands of dollars in bribe money he gets from Dennis Quaid’s character in the first act of the film. Then, being as completely broke as he is, with no job, he expects his estranged ex-wife to just drop her entire life as a rather well-off suburban homemaker to take her son and live with Butler in a homeless shelter while he “figures stuff out.”
“Leave your new husband and large house in a good neighborhood and come live with me! I have no job, house, or life skills, but damnit, I have my foppish good looks and earnest Scottish charm.”
I just want to sit this film down and tell it that “I’m not mad at you. I’m just disappointed.” The film just had so much damned potential. Its pedigree is pretty impressive, and includes Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, Dennis Quaid, and the multifaceted Judy Greer, not to mention Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel. I guess it just means that Ocean’s Eleven is the exception that proves the rule: too much star power can ruin a film. It’s not about the amount of raw talent you have in your film. It’s about how that talent is deployed. Long time director Gabriele Muccino is at the helm here, which should have been my first red flag. He’s responsible for such record-setting, Oscar-bait blockbusters like Seven Pounds and The Pursuit of Happyness. With a track record like that, Muccino is quickly becoming the Italian Uwe Boll. He’s not there yet, but he’s getting close.
There must be something in the water inButler’s neighborhood, either that or the ladies of “Playing for Keepsville” just wake up every morning and take fistfulls of “I-must-throw-my-body-at-the-first-available-bachelor-that-comes-along-or-else-I’m-going-to-spontaneously-combust” pills. The sickening level of desperation that pours off of these women as they’re openly trying to seduce him can be seen as either openly hostile or unflinchingly ignorant toward women.
“We love you, Gerard!”
That the sight of a relatively attractive man makes them go slobberingly mad with desire, which Butler then has to “comically” “attempt” to quash, is insulting and degrading to women. Not to mention that he does actually sleep with several of the women, basically using them as disposable objects, knowing full well that he is determined to romantically reunite with his ex-wife, who seems to be the only woman in town not completely bonkers for him.
At one point, he even sleeps with a woman in order to secure a job prospect, which she is desperate to secure for him in order to obtain his affections. The woman, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, is even led to believe thatButleris sleeping with her as a prelude to a long-term romantic involvement. He then discards her after she does him several personal favors at the risk of her professional integrity because he knows that his prospective job is all but a sure thing and that that will help to further make his case for getting back with his wife.
“Hey, I just met you. And this is crazy, but here’s my number. So call me, maybe?”
Dennis Quaid’s “performance” in the film is worth almost six beers on its own. Actually, Quaid is one of the most unintentionally funny parts of the entire film. He plays a manic, financially rich and morally bankrupt local businessman who bribesButlerand fills the role of the “antagonist” in the film, though that’s a loose interpretation since the film itself can’t decide what the hell he’s supposed to be. Quaid’s face is constantly blotchy and red and he acts like he’s on trailer park meth spiked with bath salts. If he did end up biting someone’s face off that would have easily taken the film from six beers to two.
“Don’t worry, guys. All the bath salted trailer meth is safe in me. I mean, with me. Yes, with me.”
One of the biggest indicators of the film’s apparent lack of luster was when my girlfriend turned to me and whispered, “this is the worst movie, ever!” about halfway through the film. I think that about sums it up right there. Look on the bright side, you crazy college kids can use this as your anchor slot for a bad movie night marathon in a few years.
Vanilla. Not funny. Slowly paced. Squandered star power. If the film can’t decide what it wants to be, then why should we?
Zack Mandell is a movie enthusiast, writer of movie reviews, and owner of www.movieroomreviews.com which has great information on actresses like Gerard Butler. He writes extensively about the movie industry for sites such as GossipCenter, Yahoo, NowPublic, and Helium.
Take a Drink: every time Jessica Biel sendsButler away from her house with a disappointed look on her face (Take it slow. This happens a lot, possibly up in the triple digits.)
Take a Drink: for every plotline that doesn’t get resolved and for every continuity error
Take Two Drinks: every time Gerard Butler “unwillingly” gets some
Shoot Some Bourbon: whenever you actually laugh with the film instead of at it. (Don’t worry, this won’t happen a lot.)