It was a lean week for movies. There’s still no sign of Anna Karenina and The Hobbit doesn’t come out until next week, so I had to go with what looked like another forgettable, mediocre Gerard Butler romantic comedy. Except I wasn’t even sure it was a romantic comedy because there were elements of three different genres in the trailer. But what it all boiled down to was:
A washed up pro soccer player coaches a kids’ team to reconnect with his ten year old son.
In addition to this sports movie plot, Butler also has to carry a washed-up guy makes good plot (he’s trying to get a job as a a sports caster) and a romantic comedy plot (he’s trying to win the kid’s mom back). So there’s a bit more substance in Playing for Keeps than in your average romantic comedy, but now that I’ve seen it, I have to report that it doesn’t make the movie any more memorable.
The problem, I think, is that instead of weaving together the elements of three plots, writer Robbie Fox tends to dwell on one for sizeable chunks of time before switching clunkily to the next one. George Dryer (Gerard Butler) is introduced with a montage of great moments from his sporting career. Fast forward a couple years, and now he’s doing demo tapes in his underwear because he can’t afford a whole suit.
Also apparently on the list of things George can’t afford: a razor.
When they’re finished with this, they introduce him a second time as a screw-up dad. Always late to pick up his son Lewis (Noah Lomax) but full of promises to do cool things like drive Ferraris and watch horror movies, thus making Lewis’ mom Stacie (Jessica Biel) and her normal fiancée Matt (James Tupper) seem like the lame-o stick in the muds.
Come on… I promise I won’t let him fly the space shuttle!
George decides he’s going to be a better father to Lewis but has no idea how. Conveniently, Lewis plays on a soccer team, so when he takes his son to practice and sees that the current coach (Sean O’Bryan) just talks on the phone while the kids run around like crazy people, he can step in and show everybody he’s good for something.
Okay kids, so from now on we’re going to kick the ball with our feet.
He’s an instant hit with the kids, presumably so we can move on to yet another plot – the one where all the undersexed soccer moms want to molest the cute new soccer coach. Barb (Judy Greer), Patti (Uma Thurman), and Denise (Catherine Zeta Jones) compete with one another to see who can be the most stereotypical slutty housewife as they throw themselves repeatedly at the confused George.
Wooot! Get in our pants, George!
Conveniently, one of the soccer moms has some sort of ESPN connection, which she will exercise on his behalf. She also expects some favors in return, which she probably could have been a little less obvious about.
There’s also a really odd subplot in this part of the film about Carl (Dennis Quaid) the slap-happy soccer dad who bribes the coach, gets arrested for beating on people who look at his wife the wrong way, and is employed as some sort of shyster. I’m not really sure why he’s in the movie. Maybe they just needed more obstacles in the way of George spending time with Lewis.
GERARD: Dennis, I’m not sure we really need you here…
DENNIS: Gerard, you said I could be in this movie! No takebacks!
Anyway once they finally get all this out of the way, they manage to move on the romantic comedy part (by now we’re about 2/3 of the way though the movie), when George spontaneously decides he wants his ex-girlfriend back so the three of them can be one big happy family. The fact that Lewis already has a happy family with his mom and Matt is irrelevant, because he’s not Lewis’ REAL DAD.
GEORGE: I bet that Matt guy can’t take you to fairs or sit on piers!
TEDDY BEAR: Oh brother…
In fact, there’s not much point in Matt being in the movie either, because he’s clearly only there to be an obstacle between Stacie and George getting immediately back together, but by the time they get around to even starting the romance subplot the movie is almost over and there’s no time for obstacles anyway.
GEORGE: Sooo…. make out with me?
Because there are at least three disparate plots going on, there are also three climaxes which don’t really coincide with one another, instead piling on one-two-three like they were lined up waiting for their turn. The effect makes the film seem too piecemeal. I think they should have done a few more script passes before kicking it out the door. However, the kid is pretty cute, George is likeable, and the movie doesn’t get too sappy and overrought, so I’d recommend it over a lot of the romantic comedies I’ve seen in the past few years.