Playing for Keeps: Gabriele Muccino’s Misfire–Comedy Starring Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel

With “Playing for Keeps,” Gabriele Muccino, a sentimental director who had helmed the Will Smith vehicles “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006) and “Seven Pounds” (2008), seeks extra cuteness he cannot find in this vastly disappointing romantic comedy, which, among many faults, is misogynistic.

Again showing poor taste in choosing material, Gerard Butler stars as George, a former soccer star who’s been humbled by hard times and wants nothing more than to get his family back. He’s moved to a Virginia suburb to be close to his adorable son (Noah Lomax), who lives with his soon-to-be-remarried mom, Stacie (Jessica Biel), the true love of George’s life.

“How did you get to be so much more grown-up than me?” George, with puppy-dog eyes, asks his ex-wife. Stacie just isn’t that into him anymore—in fact, not at all. Until, late in the game, she suddenly is again, defying believability.

Perhaps it’s because George is meant to be irresistible, though there is no evidence for that on screen. This film rather offensively suggests that no woman in town—even the woman who, after living through years of his womanizing, has suffered the most at his hands—can resist this slow-witted, sleazy hunk of a man, who has no prospects to speak of.

George’s predictable redemption begins when he takes over as coach of his son’s soccer team. That’s certainly a step toward responsibility, but the road onward from there becomes dangerous when all the kids’ moms immediately stand in line to get George into bed. Two of them indeed succeed, this film acting like the ladies are at fault for being so horny; George’s somehow innocent because he means well. (And you know what they say about good intentions)

Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Uma Thurman, all charming and talented actresses, wind up with stereotypically silly roles, cast as oversexed, out-of-control women. It’s hard to see what George’s appeal could possibly be to them, and many viewers will find themselves annoyed at the women for being so stupid (or insecure) and rooting for Stacie to grab up her son and run as far as possible away from George as soon as possible.

In a subplot, George’s also trying to get his professional life back together. After a number of failed business ventures, his last hope’s a sportscaster gig with ESPN. Playing a soccer mom/former sportscaster, Zeta-Jones will help him with her connections in exchange for some hot sex. But if George does get the job, he’ll be moving to Connecticut and saying goodbye to any chance of normal family life.

Butler stumbles through this movie like a zombie, rarely cracking a smile or looking remotely comfortable. Since the movie’s centered on him, with Biel’s character always on the sidelines, “Playing for Keeps” as a whole feels zombified.

The only life in this party is Dennis Quaid, who has a small role as a creepy team dad who loves throwing money around. He gets to be even sleazier than Butler and relishes the opportunity, limited as it is.

At the end of this embarrassing movie, you feel that the director has not only wasted the talents of half a dozen good actors, but has also wasted vast amounts of money–and our own precious time.