With a resumé that includes movies like Seven Pounds and The Pursuit of Happyness, both of which featured the one and only Will Smith, Gabriele Muccino seemed like a good choice to direct a cast filled with several big name stars in screenwriter Robbie Fox's Playing for Keeps. The tag line for the film asks "What do you really want?" and my answer to that is just to see a movie that doesn't suck.
George (Gerard Butler) is a former soccer star who is struggling to maintain a relationship with his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel) and their son Lewis (Noah Lomax) while also searching for employment to keep from going completely broke. One thing this down on his luck man never expected was to suddenly and unexpectedly be thrown in to the role of coach for his son's soccer team, but he decides to make the most of it and winds up with some unexpected opportunities.
Enter an ensemble of soccer parents who all seem to have an agenda both for their kids on the team as well as for themselves and you have what turns out to be a whirlwind of bribes, propositions, and desperate pleas for attention all directed at George who has trouble balancing it all with taking the time to solidify what is already a precarious relationship with his son. With aspirations of working as a sportscaster for ESPN or any other station that will take him, George ultimately has to decide between moving away to pursue his career goals or staying close to the two people he truly cares for.
First let me tell you what I liked about this movie. Gerard Butler is very entertaining and surprisingly likable in what is a pretty standard romantic comedy. The ensemble cast which includes Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Uma Thurman is decent in what they are asked to do although Jessica Biel gives a comparatively superior performance as Stacie as both her and Butler do a great job pouring some real emotion in to their characters. Ok, that's about it.
Outside of the two main stars and a few good laughs brought on by their supporting cast, this movie is pretty much a mess of cliché's and random story arcs that go nowhere. You see characters enter the movie, present a dilemma and a difficult choice for George and are then just as quickly discarded with nothing more than a token resolution. There is so much going on that it all gets lost in a jumble of bad gags and even worse dialog. Even the eventual conclusion fails to deliver as the major conflicts and problems are solved way too quickly and with a sense that the movie just needs to end.
By the time it does end, you will be very happy to see the credits roll and you will be left wondering why this movie just happened. Both myself and the person I was with were genuinely frustrated at how poorly this film was put together as it really had the potential to be at least a decent movie, but failed in just about every way. Its sad to see two such good actors wasted on a movie like this, but I'm sure both Butler and Biel will move on to much better things. Unfortunately Playing for Keeps does not give the audience what it really wants in any way, shape, or form.