Judge Clark Douglas has lost his marbles.
He'll do anything to get his family back.
"How would you like to go to the game in a Ferrari?"
Facts of the Case
Once upon a time, George Dryer (Gerard Butler, The Phantom of the Opera) was one of the hottest soccer players in the world. Alas, after a career-ending injury, a host of financial problems and a messy divorce, George can barely manage to pay his monthly rent. He's been trying to land a job as a sportscaster, but hasn't been having much luck. In the meantime, he's been making an effort to reconnect with his young son Lewis (Noah Lomax). He'd also love nothing more than to patch things up with his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel, The Illusionist), but she's moved on and is engaged to be married to a nice guy named Matt (James Tupper, Revenge).
Eventually, George agrees to coach Lewis' soccer team. It certainly doesn't help his financial problems, but it does give him a chance to spend some more time with his son. As a bonus, George makes friends with team parents like the business-savvy Denise (Catherine Zeta-Jones, The Mask of Zorro) and the fabulously wealthy Carl (Dennis Quaid, American Dreamz), both of whom might be able to help the former soccer star get back on his feet. Is George really on the path to a better life?
It only took a few seconds for Playing for Keeps to start getting on my nerves. It opens with a scene of George Dryer recording an audition tape to send to various sports networks. Suddenly, the recording is interrupted by the sound of a telephone ringing in the background. George sighs, regains his composure and then starts recording again. Then the phone rings again, which upsets George even further. Come on, George. If a phone rings one time, odds are pretty high that it's going to ring again. Were you expecting the person on the other line to just give up after one ring? Why wouldn't you either answer the phone or wait a while longer before jumping back into your recording?
I know, I know. I'm nitpicking. But that sort of thing is happening all the time in Playing for Keeps. It's a movie that only makes sense and seems credible if you aren't really paying attention; the sort of movie that forces its characters to abandon recognizable human behavior for the sake of the convoluted plot. It would be one thing if the movie were being presented as some sort of slapstick farce built on cartoon logic, but such notions are quickly dispelled by a generous supply of scenes that suggest that the movie very much wants to be taken seriously. Like so many rom-coms, it wants to make you laugh and cry. Alas, the comedy is crummy and the drama is tiresomely predictable.
105 minutes isn't a ridiculously lengthy running time for this sort of flick, but Playing for Keeps certainly feels long. That's probably because the movie so heavyhandedly foreshadows every major plot development so early on that it feels like we're waiting an eternity for the flick to arrive at its inevitable destination. Within mere moments, it's completely obvious that Butler's character is going to redeem himself and that Jessica Biel's dreamy, bland fiancé will be shoved out of the picture by the conclusion, but the journey there is built upon scenes that feel cobbled together from a million other modern rom-coms (he slowly begins to win her over, then there are some stupid misunderstandings that cause things to take a turn for the worse, then there's a valiant attempt at patching things up, then…seriously, how many times have we seen this movie?).
That stuff is Oscar-worthy in contrast to the goofier elements of the film, though, which mostly involve a series of beautiful women throwing themselves at Butler while he valiantly attempts to fend off their advances. The supporting cast includes Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman and Judy Greer, all of whom are immensely talented actresses. Somehow, director Gabriele Muccino and writer Robbie Fox manage to waste all three of them. Each actress is given the same story arc: they desperately lust after Butler and try to make advances on him, but he nobly turns them down each and every time. Sure, plenty of comedies have mined a lot of laughs from scenes in which one party must attempt to resist another's advances. However, considering the way that the women in Playing for Keeps are turned into crazed, desperate cartoons, the material feels smug and sexist (not to mention laugh-free). It's during these scenes that the movie ceases to be just another bland, forgettable rom-com and turns into an aggressively irritating one. The fact that these talented individuals are playing such lousy parts is a sad commentary on the availability of quality roles for middle-aged actresses in modern Hollywood.
Playing for Keeps (Blu-ray) has received an exceptional 1080p/2.40:1 transfer that offers strong detail throughout. Facial detail is particularly strong, as you can see every bit of stubble on Butler's face. Though you can see everything the film has to offer in great detail, the movie offers a typically bland rom-com look that only adds to the anonymity of the affair. Depth and shadow delineation are strong, too. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is also sturdy, blending the blandly attractive Andrea Guerra score with the dialogue and sound design quite smoothly. Supplements include two EPK-style featurettes ("The Playbook: Making Playing for Keeps" and "Creating an All-Star Team: The Cast of Playing for Keeps"), deleted scenes and a digital copy.
I don't expect much from the average rom-com these days, but Playing for Keeps is below-par even by the minimal current standards. It's sad to see a host of fine actresses wasted in flimsy roles, and it's also sad to see Gerard Butler continuing to make crummy career choices. Skip this mess.
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