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PLAYING FOR KEEPS , USA , 2012 , MPAA Rating : PG-13 for some sexual situations, language and a brief intense image

PLAYING FOR KEEPS is a slow drip of a movie that refuses to make up its mind about what it wants to be as it circles the drain. Less than the sum of its parts, it essays the rom-com, the domestic drama, and the heartwarming personal redemption genres all at once, and manages to hit almost every cliché in each as it stumbles along.

Brought to an innocent audience by Walden Media, it is family friendly despite the horde of hot-to-trot soccer moms with which it is populated. The moms in question are hot for George, an ex-soccer superstar fallen on hard times. George is played by Gerard Butler, and it was smart casting to have the charismatic George played by the charismatic Gerard if only because it makes sense of the soccer-mom’s steep hormonal curve. The soccer moms in question are Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Judy Greer and each has her own reason for throwing herself at George. The only soccer mom not interested is George’s ex, Stacie (Jessica Biel), who is about to marry a solid, reliable type (James Tupper). Naturally, the only woman George really wants is Stacie, naturally he’s also very sorry for having not been there for her and their 9-year-old son, Louis (Noah Lomax), naturally no one believes he has really changed.

Stereotypes abound in a film that also boasts trite dialogue, indifferent direction, and syrupy swelling music that seems to be cued at almost exactly the wrong moment in any given circumstance. Butler gives it his all, as a co-producer should, as does Biel, moving gamely into the post-ingénue phase of her career. Lomax has the requisite freckles and a doughty look when sad, which is often, but it is Judy Greer who makes the one memorable mark with her savvy comedic timing as an insecure divorcee in a duck-print dress bursting into tears when George says something nice to her. Too bad it’s in an otherwise plodding story unscathed by either originality or wit or any novel or even interesting insight into the human condition, even on its shallowest level.

There was a time when Gerard Butler made movies with visceral oomph. Movies that capitalized on his rough edges as well as his ability to be more complex than just a hunk of handsome manflesh. Those days, alas, seem to be over and that’s a darned shame. It’s just one more thing to hold against PLAYING FOR KEEPS.


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