Published Dec 06, 2012Playing for Keeps is an unsurprising and forgettable movie about the importance of family. It follows George (Gerard Butler), a former professional soccer player whose career was sidelined by injury and whose personal life dissolved due to philandering and a lack of resoluteness, as he relocates to be nearer his son, Lewis (Noah Lomax), and ex-wife, Stacie (Jessica Biel).
George is jobless and in arrears with his new landlord, but he's optimistic; he wants to reform himself and hopes to become a sports caster. Before much progress has been made with these goals, George is guilted into coaching Lewis's soccer team and finds himself universally desired by the soccer moms, an exceptionally attractive bunch of existentially unfulfilled women.
As the story unfolds with plodding predictability (the soccer moms take turns seducing the inexplicably passive coach, father and son bond, the exes bicker and express regret, etc.), plot points and pitfalls occur that are neither particularly funny nor believable.
Playing for Keeps needs to be a great deal funnier or moving, with appealing, relatable characters. While Gerard Butler delivers an engaging performance, the script refrains from crafting George as a man with contradictory desires and fails to develop secondary characters as credible human beings with complex internal worlds.
Why do all these women keep showing up at George's door or in his bed without discernible cause? Are they attracted to George simply because he's handsome? Are they attracted to him because they're dissatisfied with their lives and want distraction? Are they attracted to him because he still carries the patina of fame? Since the women's motivating forces aren't explored and George appears indifferent to these sexual advances, the dalliances end up less amusing and sexy than insulting and sexist.
While most of the actresses in this movie seem to relish playing caricatures of desperate, lonely, needy women ― females who act selfishly or without much thought or motivation ― Jessica Biel brings dignity to her paltry role. As Stacie, Biel has little to do but play a concerned mom and disapproving ex. But she manages to evoke the confusion and frustration her character feels in loving someone whom she doesn't want to love, who is unworthy of her affection, yet is all her heart somehow desires.
George is a guy used to getting what he wants not through determination and diligence, but because he possesses a charming accent, physical prowess and a measure of celebrity. And that's a shame. When Playing for Keeps rewards its protagonist by giving him the things he wants most before the end credits roll, it sustains the deluded notion that some people are special merely because they are attractive or famous. (VVS)