PLAYING FOR KEEPS (Rated PG-13)
With his Scottish accent, tousled-hair and ruggedly handsome looks, Gerard Butler strikes all the right notes of charm and good humor for the starring role of a down-on-his-luck former soccer star in “Playing for Keeps.”
An opening montage of grainy video clips establishes Butler’s George Dryer as a superstar on the international circuit. He’s in the league of David Beckham and Pele (those are only names of famous soccer players that readily come to mind).
While “Playing for Keeps” may showcase the endearing magnetism of a carefree athlete, this comedy is not quite sure if it should focus on George’s romantic entanglements or his primary mission of rebuilding a relationship with his estranged son.
Retired from the game, George is a man adrift, now relocated to Virginia so that he can put his life back together and also reconnect, hopefully, with his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel).
After a series of bad investments, George has to rent a guest house where he is always dodging the landlord. His latest plan to get back on his feet is to land a job as a sportscaster.
Though his initial attempts at parenting are not very encouraging, George tries to establish a relationship with his young son Lewis (Noah Lomax), who has never really known his absentee father.
Circumstances lead George to become the coach of Lewis’ soccer team. Naturally, George’s talent inspires the kids to perform much better than ever, leading to some winning games with rival teams.
Meanwhile, the roguish George draws attention from an adoring class of new fans – soccer moms, consisting of attractive single women as well as unhappily married ones.
Obviously, during his playing career, George was a womanizer who never lacked for female companionship. Now he’s got women like Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman pursuing him with zestful lustiness.
The dilemma is that George is trying fitfully to at last become an “adult,” while the flirtatious soccer moms become a distraction in his quest to bond with Lewis.
For another matter, George wants to prove to his ex-wife Stacie that despite his penchant for having a wandering eye, she is the only woman he ever loved.
Of course, an additional complication is that Stacie is soon to be married to live-in boyfriend Matt (James Tupper), a bland sort of fellow who is probably decent and caring, but not terribly exciting.
George also has to contend with a really pushy soccer dad (Dennis Quaid) determined to make him his new best bud, convincing George to give his son more playing time and involving him in some dubious adventures.
The soccer moms also get pushy. Greer’s Barb is all weepy and clingy. Zeta-Jones’ Denise is calculating, dangling the prospect of a job opportunity at ESPN in front of George. Thurman’s Patti, a married woman, offers nothing but trouble.
George does his best to fend off these advances, though it is obvious that this is no easy task for him. Still, despite his faults, he’s got his mind fixed on repairing his past bond with Stacie.
At a certain point, “Playing for Keeps” tilts from the father-son bonding amidst the distractions from the fawning women to a greater focus on George trying to rekindle the romance with Stacie.
George’s transformation from all-over-the-field playboy to reasonably reliable family man is not going to be a bombshell revelation to anyone.
And if anyone finds it surprising how the events unfold for George and Stacie, the educated guess is that you haven’t seen enough romantic comedies.
The biggest surprise might be that “Playing for Keeps” is being released during the run-up to the holiday season, where films in wide release are generally grander in scale. Consider the upcoming “The Hobbit” as an example.
“Playing for Keeps” may be formulaic and predictable, but it’s not without its appeal. While Gerard Butler is charismatic, it’s Jessica Biel who delivers the best, most credible performance.
Though it has its fun, “Playing for Keeps” is, regrettably, ultimately forgettable. You may wonder how people like Uma Thurman and Catherine Zeta-Jones decided this was a film worthy of their talents.
DVD RELEASE UPDATE
DVD releases of recent films often offer new life for decent movies that never gained appropriate notice or had a limited theatrical release.
Both may be true of “Why Stop Now,” an oddball comedy about the adventures of a young piano genius and his drug-addicted mom on a very bad day.
Piano prodigy Eli Bloom (Jesse Eisenberg) is on his way to the most important audition of his life, but first he has to drop off his mother Penny (Melissa Leo) at a drug rehab center.
But there’s one little complication. Since Penny’s not quite high enough and has to test positive to be admitted, mother and son end up at the door of her dealer Sprinkles (Tracy Morgan) in search of one last score.
Because Penny is in debt and Sprinkles is low on product, Eli unwittingly must play negotiator as the unlikely team hit the streets in search of drugs.
A screwball comedy, “Why Stop Now” is wacky and absurdly funny. Where else would you find obstacles in the drug search that include a Revolutionary War reenactment and a foul-mouthed sock puppet?
Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.