[Screen It]


(2012) (Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel) (PG-13)

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Drama: A former soccer star tries to get his life together and make amends with his divorced wife and their young son.
George (GERARD BUTLER) was once a big soccer star, with a pretty wife, Stacie (JESSICA BIEL), and a young son, Lewis (NOAH LOMAX). But since an injury ended his career at the age of 36, times have been hard as he got divorced and various business ventures failed. He's now returned to Virginia to be close to his son once again, and it's from Lewis that George learns Stacie is going to marry her live-in boyfriend, Matt (JAMES TUPPER).

That's thrown George for something of a loop, although he's not at a loss for his choice of women. With his good looks and charming accent, he immediately draws the attention of various soccer moms once he takes over coaching his son's youth team. Among them is Barb (JUDY GREER), an emotionally overwrought divorcee who immediately clings to him. Denise (CATHERINE ZETA-JONES) is a single mom who's obviously attracted to him as well, and being a former TV broadcaster, she might be able to help him break into the world of sports broadcasting. More troublesome is Patti (UMA THURMAN) since she's the wife to Carl (DENNIS QUAID), an ultra-wealthy but insanely jealous man who instantly befriends George, unaware that Patti has already set her sights on him.

While George must deal with all of them, he tries to reconnect with Lewis, and that puts him back in close contact with Stacie. From that point on, he must decide what he wants out of life and what sort of man and father he should ultimately be.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Time is a wicked part of life that repeatedly taunts everyone. When you're a young kid, it can seem like forever before your birthday or Christmas rolls around, while summer vacation seemingly lasted longer than the few months of reality. That is, until there was only a week left and those days flew by, a trait shared in school when suddenly there was just one night left to finish (and sometimes start) some paper or project.

If you hate your job, the period between 5:25 and 5:30 pm can seem like an eternity, while if you're blissfully in love, time disappears altogether. And if you have kids, time silently slips by and they're suddenly grown up and gone before you know it. For less involved or absent parents, that often results in regret, something George Dryer wants to avoid if possible. He's a former soccer star who was on top of the world, but his inability to grow up and be a true husband and father resulted in a divorce and him leaving his boy when the kid was just four-years-old.

Now, down on his luck in various ways, he's returned to be more involved in his son's life before the kid grows up harboring one degree or more of resentment toward his old man. But he must contend with his ex-wife now ready to remarry, while the various soccer moms who set eyes on his rugged good looks and hear his charming accent instantly become smitten and more with him.

That might sound like the makings for a heartwarming family drama tinged with bits of humor and/or randy bits, especially considering if the cast included the likes of Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman. Unfortunately, "Playing For Keeps" ends up feeling like those aforementioned five minutes before closing time -- you'll repeatedly check your watch wondering how much longer this bungled effort will hold onto you before releasing you from its awful grip.

Of course, regular viewers will have the luxury of being able to get up and get away from this, but professional reviewers will have to endure every second of its 106-some minute runtime. Having recently sat through much longer Oscar contenders, this film feels about twice as long without any award potential or redeeming quality in any of its 6,360 seconds up on the screen.

The main plot gist of a mostly absent parent wanting to get back with his family is certainly nothing novel in the world of the cinema, and neither director Gabriele Muccino ("Seven Pounds," "The Pursuit of Happyness") nor screenwriter Robbie Fox imbue that angle with anything that will hold our interest. In fact, that through-line of the story might be one of the more listless and recycled elements I've seen in a film all year.

Possibly sensing that, the filmmakers have added the subplot of various women (Zeta-Jones, Thurman and Judy Greer) having their senses and sometimes their pants charmed off of them by Gerard's character who actually isn't looking for that sort of action. Not only is that an offensive portrayal of so-called "cougars" (obviously in heat here), but the screwball comedy tone that surrounds that material simply doesn't mesh with the family drama.

Sure, it's present to spice things up a bit, provide a little comedic relief and provide some brief third act complications toward the protagonist's main goal, but all of that feels as if it belongs and/or has been lifted from an entirely different movie. It certainly doesn't help that composer Andrea Guerra's score similarly runs all over the board, obnoxiously driving home the so-called emotion of those various scenes, be they screwball or (intended) heartfelt moments.

Butler can have a charming persona on screen if given the right material with which to work. Alas, that's not the case here and he looks about as bored as many a viewer will be watching him. Who knows what drew the likes of Quaid (similarly coming off playing his character as if from another movie), Zeta-Jones, Thurman and Greer to sign on, but they're all equally wasted. Biel can't do much with her underwritten and rote role, while young Noah Lomax won't be winning any "best young performer" awards for his work here.

Simply put, I wanted to check my watch far more times than I actually did while sitting through this misfire, but didn't want to annoy those around me with my watch face lighting up each time. Then again, that might have been more entertaining and emotionally true than this offering that simply doesn't work anyway one looks at it. As the old saying goes, "Well, that's two hours of my life I'll never get back." Time is precious. Don't waste yours on a film like this. "Playing for Keeps" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed December 3, 2012 / Posted December 7, 2012

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