Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Run Time: 1 hours, 46 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Noah Lomax, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer, Iqbal Theba, James Tupper
Written by Robbie Fox (So I Married an Axe Murderer)
Directed by Gabriele Muccino (Seven Pounds, The Pursuit of Happiness)
So Gerard Butler plays George, a former soccer star and a legend of the game who finds himself past his prime. He is behind on all of his bills and is now a single dad to his young son, who lives with his mom, George's ex-wife, Stacie (Jessica Biel) and her soon-to-be husband Matt (James Tupper). He tries to be a good dad, but is too irresponsible and immature to impress anyone. When he takes his son to soccer practice, he notices that the team is a bunch of misfits, being coached by a guy who could care less. George is asked to take over as the coach of his son's soccer team, and he accepts. A rich soccer dad (Dennis Quaid) hands him an envelope full of cash, telling him its a donation to buy uniforms for the team, but that he expects his son to play goalie.
Wait, wait, wait, you think you know where this is headed? Let me guess, we've all seen this movie before, right? George will whip his team into shape and there will be several early games where the team struggles to get in sync. At some point, George will finally stand up and replace the rich dad's son at goalie, pissing him off and creating drama but restoring team morale. Once the goalie is replaced, the team will rebound and start winning some games. The movie will finish with the "big game" sequence where George's son will score the final goal, with George impressing the likes of his former wife and proving that he is really a winner in life.
Right? We've seen it all before? Think again.
Playing For Keeps is not The Mighty Ducks of soccer. In fact, it is not a movie about soccer at all. For over an hour, it was one of the most surprising, entertaining and charming romantic comedies in quite some time. Until it wasn't.
Taking a horribly cliched turn at the end, Playing For Keeps ends up in the same place all romantic comedies do. I want to give it credit for taking a different path, but it derails so catastrophically that it is hard to do so.
Just as they set up the whole "underdog sports" story that we've seen a hundred times before, director Gabriele Muccino defies our expectations. Instead, he is more interested ion the relationship between George and his son.
Once George takes over the team, as you may expect, this goes over just fine with the many soccer moms at practice. The fit and handsome Gerard Butler taking over for the overweight and balding former coach? Now there's a reason to come to practice each day.
We meet Denise (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a married mom with the hots for George, Patti (Uma Thurman) the wife of Dennis Quaid's character who can't wait to break out and Barb (Judy Greer) the emotionally damaged divorcee who can't keep from crying. All of the women in this film throw themselves at George in various over-the-top ways, with hilarious results. Iqbal Theba is also very funny as George's landlord, who is impressed with the many different women he sees George bringing home.
In fact, had this film been a straight comedy called "Soccer Moms," it may have been very successful. The supporting cast (and Gerard Butler by the way) all give great comedic performances and are the movie's strength.
But as if felt obligated, Playing For Keeps couldn't help itself from going down the same beaten road that most rom-coms travel. I won't give anything away, but if you've ever seen a romantic comedy you probably can guess what will happen. What a shame, for a film that felt like anything but familiar for so long.
Playing For Keeps misses a golden opportunity to be different and instead becomes yet another disposable, cliched romantic comedy.
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