The culture of affluent youth soccer parents provides a ripe comic target, but Playing for Keeps misses the goal.
The film is a half-hearted comedy about the perils of former professional athletes that unsuccessfully tries to force together elements of domestic melodrama and romantic farce.
Gerard Butler stars as George, who is introduced as an international soccer superstar with a highlight montage. But those years on the road have not only led to some poor financial decisions, but have kept him away from his young son, Lewis (Noah Lomax).
He tries to mend his ways by relocating to a rent house in Virginia, where he tries to reconnect with Lewis and his ex-wife, Stacie (Jessica Biel), who has since become engaged to Matt (James Tupper), who is more stable and supportive.
So George lends his expertise by coaching his son’s ragtag soccer team. That decision brings him closer to Stacie and Lewis, but also makes him the unwilling object of attention for rich soccer moms with nothing better to occupy their time.
Directed by Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness), Playing for Keeps has some amusing moments, yet it squanders a solid ensemble cast with its scatterbrained script by Robbie Fox (So I Married an Axe Murderer) that suffers from an inconsistent tone.
Among those playing intrusive soccer parents are Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman and Judy Greer, and every one of them has their reasons for wanting to befriend George, from flirtations to financial gain.
Butler offers an appealing performance in a change-of-pace role, and he is physically convincing in the role of an ex-soccer star — even showcasing a few skills on the field. His character, however, seems incredibly naïve as he gets drawn into suburban social circles.
The misogynistic screenplay also stumbles when it comes to more dramatic territory, taking real-world issues — such as awkward marital reconciliation and distrust between impressionable youngster and absentee father — and draining them of plausibility. Plus, a throwaway subplot involving George’s nosy landlord (Iqbal Theba) is unnecessarily creepy.
Playing for Keeps is shallow and superficial, like most of its characters. Whether comedic or dramatic, the film is predictable both on and off the field.
Rated PG-13, 105 minutes.