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Definitely not a keeper

Profile image for By Christy Lemire / AP Movie Critic
By Christy Lemire / AP Movie Critic

Soccer coach soap opera a real stinker

This is supposed to be the time of year when high-quality movies come out, whether they’re potential Oscar contenders or crowd-pleasing family fare.

So the presence of flat, hacky, unfunny dreck like Playing for Keeps — the kind of film that ordinarily tries to fly under the radar in January or February but would be torture to sit through in any month — is a total mystery.

It is truly baffling that all the talented, acclaimed actors involved actually read this script and then agreed to devote their time to this movie, especially given its uncomfortably flagrant misogynistic streak. Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman couldn’t possibly need work this badly. And yet, here they are as soccer moms shamelessly throwing themselves at Gerard Butler and his tousled, manly mane.

The Scottish hunk, still struggling with comedy following The Ugly Truth and The Bounty Hunter, stars as George Dryer, a once-great soccer star who’s now divorced and in financial straits. At the film’s start, he has moved to suburban Virginia to reconnect with his ex-wife, Stacie (Jessica Biel), and their young son, Lewis (Noah Lomax). Naturally, a couple of things happen pretty quickly, accompanied by an intrusively jaunty score.

First, George gets suckered into coaching his kid’s soccer team. Then, the mothers of all the other 9-year-olds start brazenly hitting on him, regardless of whether they’re married or single. They’re just so wildly hormonal, they can’t control themselves.

Director Gabriele Muccino, who’s had mixed results with Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds, veers awkwardly between wacky high jinks and facile sentimentality, and Robbie Fox’s script doesn’t feature a single character who resembles an actual human being.

The one woman with an actual backbone and sense of values in this movie is Biel’s character — who’s also rendered as bland, conservative and a little frumpy. It’s difficult to tell what sort of magic these two forged together years ago and impossible to care whether they’ll reconcile, although — spoiler! — that’s just one of the many elements of the lazy, formulaic game plan in play here.


Playing for Keeps


Rated PG-13, 105 minutes.

Opens Friday.