I've been sitting in the same spot for the past two hours attempting to come up with a nice way to put my feelings about "Playing for Keeps," the latest stalled romantic star vehicle for Gerard Butler. But I just can't.
"Playing for Keeps" is soul-sucking. It is almost devious in its blandness. The film's only remarkable feature is how crushingly unremarkable it is. Not a performance sticks out. Not a moment sticks out. My mind keeps replaying the movie in my head, trying to find something to love or hate but instead just finding apathy. I'd say that "Playing for Keeps" dares you to care, but I don't think it dares to do anything at all.
Butler, still somehow riding his fame from "300," plays George Dryer, a former soccer star who dropped off the face of the planet after an ankle injury made him leave the professional game. Now, he spends his nights attempting to make a demo reel for ESPN, barely making his rent payments and trying to win back the hearts of his son Lewis (Noah Lomax, adequately adorable) and his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel).
Inspiration knocks or, rather, kicks (Ugh, I hate myself for that pun) when George witnesses his son's dysfunctional soccer practice, led by a horribly inept and distracted fellow parent. George takes over as coach, turning the band of lovable misfits into Real Madrid. He also starts catching the eyes of the various bored soccer moms in attendance (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer and Uma Thurman) and not just due to his fancy footwork. Dennis Quaid also shows up as Thurman's high-strung rich husband who gifts Dryer with an envelope of money and a Ferrari. Because that's what rich people do, I guess.
Will George be able to overcome the horny soccer moms' endless come-ons and win his way back into his ex-wife's heart? And what of the job opportunity across the country at ESPN? And why am I staring into my empty Junior Mints box in the hopes of finding something remotely interesting?
Director Gabriele Muccino's previous American efforts, "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Seven Pounds," were accused of pulling on the heartstrings too hard. In some strange response to that criticism, Muccino seems unwilling to do anything at all in "Playing for Keeps." The jokes, the romance and the plot points all hit with remarkable thuds. The only thing attempting to wring some emotion is the cloying score, which tries its best to make up for the film's oppressive flatness. The result is like eating cardboard with a side of Pixy Stix and caramel.
Muccino doesn't get much support from his cast. Butler seems like a nice guy, but he adds nothing to his role. It's becoming more and more apparent that his breakout role in "300," which really only required abs and the ability to yell catchphrases, wasn't quite the star-making turn we thought it might be. Not that his script choices (see "Playing for Keeps," "Chasing Mavericks," almost anything he's done since "300") help his cause.
As the temptations throwing themselves mindlessly at Butler, Zeta-Jones, Greer and Thurman don't have much to do. The always-welcome Greer is the only one who makes much of an impression, but the character is still not much to speak of. As the conflicted ex-wife, Biel is the only character with any substance (or the script's feeble attempt at substance), but the "7th Heaven" alum is also the weakest actress in the film. Everything is skin-deep, like she knows what a particular emotion looks like but not what it feels like.
Together, this band of lifeless drones sleepwalk through Robbie Fox's hodge-podge screenplay, his first since a 1994 Pauly Shore movie, in case you needed any more reasons to avoid this mindless distraction. The story attempts to juggle several plotlines and characters, but it's all for naught. "Playing for Keeps" is all cliches, none of them interesting. When a romance gets derailed by a typical miscommunication that could be solved with a simple sentence (a trope from approximately every dumb romantic comedy in history), my eyes rolled right out of my skull.
I'll give "Playing for Keeps" this: It's generally pleasant. Even when things are supposedly in the dumps, everything is all smiles, albeit of the blank variety. The film qualifies as nice, but nice is very different from entertaining or interesting. As it stands, nice is the only thing stopping "Playing for Keeps" from causing mind-numbing hatred. Just mind-numbing.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published April 23, 2015
Lord Huron doesn't quite trek to the stars like it said it might on its new album "Strange Trails," but the folk band is still going places. Its dreamy musical vistas have nabbed a big audience -- so much so that demand moved the band's return to The Pabst Theater on Saturday, April 25 over to the Riverside. Before then, I got a chance to chat with frontman Ben Schneider about "Strange Trails," the stories that come with it and going to space (at some point).
Published April 22, 2015
I've had some less than flattering things to say about found footage in recent years, calling it things like "the worst of today's low budget Hollywood filmmaking" and "a thing that shouldn't exist anymore." So let's all take a moment and marvel at the fact that in the new techno-horror flick "Unfriended," the found footage-esque visual gimmick not only works, but it's the best part of the movie. The result isn't much for scares, but it is scarily entertaining.
Published April 21, 2015
Welcome back to Unceremonious Overqualified Movie Dump Theatre. The most recent entry: "Child 44," which features an impressive roster of stars but was cut down to a mere 510 theaters just a few weeks before its release. It was a bad omen and unfortunately an accurate one as well, as the apparent lack of confidence from the studio equals a lack of quality on the screen.
Published April 20, 2015
The Maine is currently on the road right now, touring in support of its latest album "American Candy," released just last month on March 31. Its current tour lands at The Rave on Wednesday, April 22. Before then, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with guitarist Jared Monaco about the new album, as well as his appreciation for The Rave and ... NSYNC.
Published April 18, 2015
Before the fairy tale riff "Peter and the Starcatcher" starts its run at the Milwaukee Rep on Tuesday, April 21, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with director Blake Robison about this particular Peter Pan retelling, making actors fly and why revisionist fairy tales are currently all the rage.
Published April 17, 2015
The Wisconsin State Fair's Main Stage lineup this summer features some of the biggest names the celebration has wrangled up in recent note. And the biggest of the bunch - or at least certainly the most unusual - is tightrope artist extraordinaire Nik Wallenda. OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to talk one-on-one with the stuntman about preparing for another life-threatening performance and being in a highwire family dynasty that shows no sign of stopping.
Published April 17, 2015
The Riverside's distant past will become the present as the legendary theater will play host to two screenings of the beloved 1942 classic "Casablanca" Friday and Saturday night. And to complete the blast to the past vibe of the event, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will perform Max Steiner's famous score alongside the movie.
Published April 15, 2015
Eugene Ionesco's 1950 play "The Bald Soprano" - the first the famed playwright ever wrote - is an absurdist classic. It's one of the most performed shows in France with a permanent repertory spot at Theatre de la Huchette since 1957 and a large number of interpretations. It's safe to say, however, that few to none of those interpretations featuring digital actors getting beamed in like "Star Trek" characters.
Published April 14, 2015
The Blue Man Group is famous for several things: funky instruments, those old Intel ads, Tobias Funke proclaiming that "I blue myself!" on "Arrested Development" and, of course, the whole being covered in blue paint thing. But one of the crucial elements of the Blue Man Group is that they don't talk. So imagine my surprise in getting to interview a Blue Man (at least the transcription would be easy).
Published April 14, 2015
Tomorrow night, after weeks of anticipation and online voting, the Milwaukee Awards for Neighborhood Development Innovation (MANDIs) will name the winners at a ceremony at the Potawatomi Event Center. However, there's still 24 hours left to learn about these community-impacting individuals and organizations and vote for the Wells Fargo People's Choice Award before the polls close and the numbers are tallied up.