Gabriele Muccino, known predominantly for his 2006 feature The Pursuit of Happyness, returns with Playing for Keeps, a picture that has that early 1990′s feel to it, but not in a good way.
Unsurprisingly, writer Robbie Fox last wrote a screenplay in 1993 with So I Married an Axe Murderer, and it really shows. Sometimes films don’t look too promising from the outset, but then proceed to pleasantly surprise you. Unfortunately on this occasion, this one is as bad as it looks.
Gerard Butler plays George Dryer, a former professional footballer who had once played for Liverpool, before moving to the MLS where he suffered a career ending injury. Now washed up and in need of some quick cash, he attempts to turn his life around and begins by reconnecting with his son Lewis (Noah Lomax), and ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel), who, much to George’s displeasure, is soon to remarry.
George – who has dreams of one day becoming a sports pundit – takes over Lewis’ football team, and although this opportunity is allowing him more consistent access to his son and a chance to prove his worth, he falls short when a series of “soccer moms” throw themselves at him, and for a man who has lived the high life for a long time, he finds it rather difficult to turn them all away…
Playing for Keeps is Hollywood at its most infuriating and predictable, as a film in which you could watch the first five minutes (or the trailer to save yourself the time and money) and know exactly how it’s all going to pan out. Sometimes it’s so predictable that you can’t even believe they went there. Have they no dignity? The feature is caught shamelessly in between two audiences as well, as it doesn’t appeal to a younger audience due to the romantic narratives and occasional swear word, but it’s far too Mighty Ducks for adults to appreciate it. Although it’s the latter that works better on this occasion, as the father-son plot has far more to it than the romantic nonsense. Muccino would certainly have benefited from shifting the emphasis more to the former; it’s where the Italian director excels, after all.
The way the female characters simply throw themselves at George is quite belittling of women also, and a discredit to the actresses portraying them. He just swaggers in and has the pick of all the kids’ mothers. They are, of course, all single and completely gagging for it. Obviously. Fortunately a decent supporting cast does help in preventing this film from being a complete monstrosity, featuring the likes of Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Judy Greer, while Dennis Quaid – playing the obnoxious and affluent Carl – is the only actor who comes out of the film with his reputation in tact.
Butler, on the other hand, is unimpressive, yet in his defence, he has one of the most soulless, undeveloped characters to work with. There is so little depth to the role of George, which is a shame, as it has the potential to be a fascinating part; the washed up footballer who has spent all of his money and time on women and other luxuries, and now, retired, is paying the price for it. Yet there is simply nothing to him at all, and also, Butler, it’s “football”, not “soccer”. And you call yourself a Scot…
Hitting our screens on New Year’s Day, let’s cross our fingers and hope that Playing for Keeps isn’t an indication as to how the rest of 2013 will be for cinema. Best to get it out of the way early, I suppose.