How anyone can rope in so many charming actors and yet make such an unremarkable film is the one single thought that’s going through your head as you watch Playing For Keeps. This inoffensive but formulaic romantic comedy squanders away the talents of its sexy cast by trapping them in such a predictable script.
Gerard Butler stars as George Dryer, a former soccer-star who relocates to a suburb in Virginia to make amends with his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) and their nine-year-old son. Desperately broke, George grabs the opportunity to coach his son’s soccer team, but finds himself becoming popular with the kids’ moms, who throw themselves at him shamelessly. Among these is a clingy divorcee (Judy Greer), a rich housewife trapped in a loveless marriage (Uma Thurman), and a well-connected temptress (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who offers to hook him up with an ESPN sports-casting job.
Although there are some laughs to be had at the soccer moms’ desperate attempts to seduce the hunky coach (Judy Greer nails it as the pathetic single mom who gets Butler to sleep with her almost out of sympathy), Dryer’s disinterest and complete passiveness towards them is utterly unconvincing given what we have already learnt about his colorful past in a casual comment made by his sports-anchor friend in an earlier scene.
The film’s only genuine moments are the ones between Butler and the kid (Noah Lomax), who have a warm and believable chemistry together. Biel offers an earnest performance as Butler’s vulnerable ex, but it’s such an underwritten part, there’s little depth she can bring to it. Butler himself isn’t too bad, but the script never really makes him earn his redemption, sorting out his mess a little too easily, thereby never allowing you to truly root for the character.
I’m going with two out of five for Playing For Keeps. It’s not a terrible film, it isn’t unwatchable either. It’s just dull. And that’s a shame given all the talent involved.