MRR Movie Review: Playing for Keeps

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A former professional athlete with a weak past tries to redeem himself by coaching his son's soccer team, only to find himself unable to resist when in scoring position with his players' restless and gorgeous moms. Gerard Butler stars as the main character, with Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman, Dennis Quaid & Catherine Zeta-Jones playing supporting roles in the sports-themed comedy film.
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Movie Review: "Playing for Keeps"

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 106 minutes
Release Date: Dec. 7, 2012
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino
Genre: Comedy/Romance

In the romantic comedy "Playing for Keeps," George (portrayed by Gerard Butler) is an ex-international soccer star who is fast fading. In hopes of landing a career as a sportscaster, he makes demo videos in his house and prays that one day the right person will see them. Though broke, George does not want to be far from his son Lewis, (portrayed by Noah Lomax) so he lives in a leafy Virginia suburb.
Things begin to change one day when George witnesses the destructive coaching abilities of his son's team coach. The soccer coach teaches the players to kick with their toes, which George immediately recognizes as bad advice. Infuriated, he steps in to teach the kids how to play well. This soon lands him the coaching job.

Immediately after he starts coaching, he gets on the radar of several well-heeled mothers in the neighborhood. They throw themselves at him helplessly, though he doesn't seem too averse to their company. One of his admirers is Denise (portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones) who is a former sportscaster. Denise promises to help George showcase his skills to the bigwigs at ESPN. To complicate matters, Denise still loves his ex-wife, Stacie (portrayed by Jessica Biel).

Critics of the movie have complained that three different stories comprise the narrative, and that it remains unclear which storyline is the major one. Is it a career versus family life drama? Or is it a farce about a failed soccer player finding redemption by coaching a kid's soccer team? Maybe it's a farce about a man embroiled in a multiple relationship with several women. Some viewers believe that the film is about all of the above.

Despite the narrative's potential weaknesses in "Playing for Keeps," the overwhelming talent of the major cast members cannot be disputed. Biel and Butler give emotional performances that neither of them has exhibited in a long time. The decision to pair off these two together in the film paid off handsomely. Butler is particularly convincing in his soccer scenes. Most of the movie's laughs, however, come from the supporting cast.

Unlike action films, horror films and romantic comedies are not particularly expensive to make. There always seems to be a ready audience waiting for the release of romantic comedy films. This, however, is a double-edged sword. The downside of producing a romantic comedy or horror film is that filmmakers are churning out many films of the same genera. For one to stand out, it would have to be extremely good.

The producers of "Playing for Keeps" understood the script well and were able to successful relay the storyline. Butler certainly found a storyline he could excel in, unlike his other past attempts such as in "The Bounty Hunter" or "The Ugly Truth."
Most of the characters in the film have well developed roles, but these roles are still predictable and follow romantic comedy stereotypes. George is good looking enough to be labeled a chick magnet, and the women don't waste time throwing themselves at his feet. Although he still loves his ex-wife, he can't seem to keep the women at bay. Then there is Stacie, who is clearly portrayed as a typical judgmental wife. She tries playing hard to get, but she is not too resolute with her decisions.

In one example, George does pleasantly deviate from the viewer's expectations. The way he handles the overwhelming female attention is wanting. George's reaction to the women seemed out-of-character. He should have been more jazzed about all the female attention, though he was not. The viewer already knows that George likes female attention; after all, his womanizing tendencies lead to his divorce. Aside from this single mysterious act of spontaneity, there were no more genuine characterization surprises in the film.

Butler is a Scottish actor with numerous appearances in stage, film and television productions. He is a trained lawyer who started acting in the mid 1990s. Some of the productions he has appeared in include "The Phantom of the Opera," "The Ugly Truth," "Nim's Island" and others. Biel is an American singer, model and actress with numerous appearances in movies and television series. Her films include the "Blade: Trinity," "New Year's Eve," "Total Recall" and others.

If "Playing for Keeps" would have been produced in the 1930s, the secondary characters would have been more developed. To remain consistent with modern viewer's expectations, however, the story is primarily hinged on the major stars. Those who received technical credits for "Playing for Keeps" are to be praised for their obvious commitment and aesthetic insight while creating this film.

Rating: 3 out of 5