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Can't play without balls

Hot-and-bothered soccer moms don't see any action in almost-sex comedy because Gerard Butler is rendered a eunuch by lame script

The premise is titillating: A divorced former Scottish soccer star transplanted to the U.S. finds himself coaching his young son's soccer team, only to find himself the object of attention from a gaggle of randy soccer moms.

Before you get your hormones in a stew, note the PG rating.

Gerard Butler and Uma Thurman in Playing For Keeps.


Gerard Butler and Uma Thurman in Playing For Keeps.

Butler with Noah Lomax

Butler with Noah Lomax

As a sex comedy, Playing for Keeps is hopelessly neutered. Every time those sexed-up moms make a play for down-on-his-luck George Dryer (Gerard Butler), the movie either cuts away or contrives to sabotage the encounter. The premise suggests hot times, but the movie itself delivers a series of cold showers.

In short, this is another Gerard Butler movie that gets you wondering just how such a promising movie star finds himself time and again in such crummy movies such as Law Abiding Citizen, The Bounty Hunter and The Ugly Truth.

Gerard Butler is starting to look like Sean Connery doomed to the career of Roger Moore.

In Playing for Keeps, Butler almost looks like he's going to do a variation of the virile, cheeky anti-hero he played in Rocknrolla. But director Gabriele Muccino (Seven Pounds) and screenwriter Robbie Fox (So I Married an Ax Murderer) conspire to sap him with Hollywood saltpeter.

The only reason the once-boisterous George is even in the United States is because he is determined to finally be a responsible father to his young son Lewis (Noah Lomax). He also carries a still-burning torch for his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel), even if Stacie has moved on and is considering getting married again to an inevitably stuffy new beau.

While mooning over his failures, George drives around Virginia looking for ways to make a post-sport living, preferably as a sportscaster. While observing his son at a peewee soccer game, he can't help notice the coach a) doesn't know the first thing about the game and b) is too distracted by his own cellphone to do any actual coaching.

George steps in and takes over (one wonders why it took so long for this to happen, given the whole wanting-to-bond-with-his-son thing), and single-handedly turns the team's fortune. This earns the gratitude of a pushy, ostentatious dad Carl (Dennis Quaid) who bribes George to let his son play goal. But it also earns the aforementioned attention of a pair of newly single moms Denise and Barb (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Judy Greer, who wins the movie's few laughs as a weepy but horny divorcee) as well as Patti (Uma Thurman), married to the philandering Carl.

I could weep like Barb when contemplating how this movie could have been so much more entertaining. The emphasis on a run-of-the-mill family drama is especially annoying because we're at a stage where movies could really stand to revive the ribald sex farce, or at least reclaim the genre from the grip of gross-out teen sexploitation.

Playing for Keeps fails to go there and subsequently fails altogether.

Call a foul on the director and screenwriter for hacking and give this movie the red card.


Other Voices

The oddly unsatisfying big-screen career of Gerard Butler takes another unfortunate turn with Playing for Keeps, a sexualized romantic comedy built around kids' soccer.

-- Roger Moore, McClatchly-Tribune


Playing For Keeps has been written and directed as a mushy-headed vehicle for what are supposed to be a lot of high-voltage star turns. Nothing much makes sense, but look at all the celebrities.

-- Jay Scott, Canada.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2012 D1


Updated on Friday, December 7, 2012 at 11:00 AM CST: adds better photo, adds fact box

11:19 AM: corrects spelling of eunuch

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