A mere week after the home video release of Chasing Mavericks, in which he turned in a pretty decent performance as a surfing mentor, Gerard Butler returns to us in yet another sports-themed flick, Playing for Keeps, which turns out to be a pretty horrendous attempt to once again position the manly Scottish man as a romantic comedy lead.
Butler gets to keep his Scottish brogue as he plays a former professional soccer player whose life has faltered since he left the game: he hawks his own memorabilia to make money, barely gets to see his son (Noah Lomax) and learns his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) is getting remarried. His life changes, for better and worse, when he starts coaching his son’s soccer team.
Things actually start out promisingly as we learn about Butler’s situation and kind of feel for him, and the film is nicely amusing (and Butler the most comfortable) whenever we see him actually coaching the kids or showing off his soccer skills. It even gets a bit of mileage out of mocking his accent and his use of a… um… colorful British term during his rousing pep talk to the kids.
Beyond that, Seven Pounds director Gabriele Muccino can’t decide what he wants the film to be. For a while he tries for something akin to screwball comedy, as Butler is chased by not one, not two, but three different soccer moms (Judy Greer, Uma Thurman and Catherine Zeta-Jones). But his indifferent direction and Butler’s utter lack of comic timing outright kill any potential laughs.
Failing to make much of the funny stuff, Muccino goes for drama, some incredibly predictable stuff involving, you guessed it, Biel and Butler’s inevitable reconciliation. At which point the film doesn’t merely go through the motions, it labors through them, and we wince as Biel, having sighed and harrumphed at Butler’s irresponsibility, suddenly turns teary and emotionally torn over him.
On the bright side, Dennis Quaid lends some nice energy as a wealthy and easily jealous soccer parent, and the adorable Lomax is winning as Butler’s kid. And Muccino does manage a couple of halfway decent dramatic moments, including one in which Butler and Biel reminisce about a long-ago trip to Italy, a place I wished I could have been instead of here, having to endure this maudlin mess. – [DVD]
DVD Release Date: 3/5/13