Playing for keeps (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
13Mar/130

Playing for keeps (2012)

There's some humilityAndrew DISLIKE BannerTry and see this much in Gerard Butler, the man is learning.  He's at least gone from playing an insufferably smug golden god in romantic comedies to at least having a sense of humility about himself.  It's at least some sign of growth in a man who it seems was never going to get beyond the role of an alpha male in every one of his films.

Now, absolutely nothing positive I said about Butler can be applied to the rest of Playing for keeps.  I have no idea what the stakes in this film are really supposed to be.  It seems that completely unmooring Butler from his standard role as the ultimate machismo jackass has also stranded him in films with little idea of what to do with him.  In all fairness to Butler, as confused as he looks with those "What performance to I give here?" eyes I think it would have taken several long nights of light substance abuse and workshopping to even pull basic drama from this scenario.

Life still gives us some small miracles at times and there is a hilariously coked out performance from the normally stoic Dennis Quaid in the middle of all this mediocrity.  Heck, it might have even given some folks pause about who to center the film on.

The love letter of a Strong Independent Woman.

The love letter of a Strong Independent Woman.

Butler is dead-center on the poster so he's who we're stuck with.  He's George, a once-popular and talented soccer player who has fallen on hard times.  The way we know George has experienced any change at all is due to a jarring transition between the badly green-screened George playing in some professional games and the now depantsed George filming promo tapes for a sportscaster job.  Don't bother asking what happened in the midterm, because all you need to know is that George is now a very sad man.

Not only that because, following the screenwriters empathy pretraining course, George is also trying to patching things up with his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) and approaching the vanishing point of positive relations with his son (Noah Lomax).  Their names?  Don't matter - her role is to quiver her lip slightly whenever it seems George is going to change (again, from what? Won't say) and the little guy seemed cast for his freckle to exposed skin ratio more than anything else.  Neither is bad exactly, they just don't have anything to do other than play roles that wait for George to come right back to them.

That can't quite be said of any of the plethora of female costars (including the great Judy Greer and Catherine Zeta-Jones) that, and I hate typing this, literally throw themselves at the hunky single father.  George ends up in this arrangement becomes the head coach for the soccer team his son plays on and finds his date book filled not by choice but by aggressive hormones.  Based on this film, it appears that sexually healthy adult women are now operating at barely above the boys of Porky's or Project X.  I hope you'll agree that this is not screenwriting progress.

Jessica Biel peruses the script - "Her lip quivers" - she delivers.

Jessica Biel peruses the script - "Her lip quivers" - she delivers.

The fringe elements of Playing for keeps do contain one element I liked that involves Quaid's coked-out role and a similarly unhinged Uma Thurman.  Were they not such talented performers I would assume that they had stumbled onto the set thinking the '80s never ended and just started rambling at people.  Thurman's written to have the same troubling uncontrollable lust for Butler but her few scenes with Quaid nervously sweating over themselves and this hunky new soccer man have a funny, energetic, and altogether curious subtext.  In a dark comedy they would be king and queen but here they're memorable bit players in a dull farce.

While researching just what could have potentially gone right with the production I stumbled upon the director, Gabriele Muccino.  He is the most sterilizing director working today.  I've weathered his work through The Pursuit of Happyness, which has the cleanest New York subway stations in the world, and the even more bizarrely clean Seven Pounds, which I almost recommend just because of the way it sidesteps everything troubling into one of the weirdest endings I have ever seen.  I'm not familiar with any of his Italian filma, but his American productions are barely worth remembering beyond one odd detail.

The whole story of Playing for keeps stems around if his ex-wife will remember how he looks shirtless.  That's it.  For those of you looking for drama, you won't find it in the story of the decent guy who happens to get laid a lot because he's still in great shape.  That is not the formula of powerful drama.

Playing for Keeps - TrailerPlaying for keeps (2012)
Directed by Gabriele Muccino.
Screenplay written by Robbie Fox.
Starring Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, and Noah Lomax.

Posted by Andrew

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