Jessica Biel, Noah Lomax and Gerard Butler deliver a kick to the balls.
PLAYING FOR KEEPS (Gabriele Muccino). 106 minutes. Opens Friday (December 7). See listing. Rating: NN
You don't often find a romantic comedy that has no idea what it's supposed to be doing - and for a while, at least, Playing For Keeps turns that into a strength.
The first half is the slapdash story of divorced, washed-up soccer star George (Gerard Butler), who moves to Virginia to be close to his young son (Noah Lomax) only to wind up coaching the kid's footie team and fending off the attentions of a series of bored soccer moms played by the overqualified likes of Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman. (Dennis Quaid, as Thurman's glad-handing husband, does his best to steal the picture with a gonzo turn worthy of Nicolas Cage. It does not work.)
But then screenwriter Robbie Fox shifts the plot into ticking-clock romance: George's ex-wife, Stacie (Jessica Biel), is about to remarry, and George sets out to win her back. But Biel has so convincingly established Stacie as a woman who's sick of her ex and is ready to move on with her life that Playing For Keeps is basically encouraging us to root for George as he destroys her hard-won happiness.
This is not entirely surprising, given that director Gabriele Muccino's previous American credits include two terrible Will Smith dramas, The Pursuit Of Happyness and Seven Pounds. Playing For Keeps isn't that bad; Muccino simply doesn't know how to fix the script or manage his actors, and the whole thing just sort of sputters out.