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 Feb. 10, 2016
Johnny Depp was surrounded by orange people when he played Willy Wonka in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Now he gets to play one himself: Donald Trump, in Funny Or Die's faux-biopic "The Art of the Deal: The Movie."
Published Feb. 9, 2016
On the 26th day of the second month of the 2016th year, "Fuller House" will be unleashed upon the human species, and the world will know darkness and despair unlike any other. In the meantime, here's the first official footage of the rebooted sitcom.
Published Feb. 8, 2016
Yesterday, the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in what could only be technically described as "a competitive football game." But who actually won yesterday's great American unofficial tribute to commercialism? Here are the real winners and losers of Super Bowl 50.
Published Feb. 6, 2016
Filmmaker Brian Oakes remembers James Foley well, growing up together as friends and remaining tightly knit all the way until Jim's abrupt death. And it's that James Foley - his life, not his death - that Oakes hopes to pay tribute to with "Jim: The James Foley Story."
Published Feb. 5, 2016
OnMilwaukee recently caught up with Milwaukee-born animator Owen Klatte to talk about the making of "Anomalisa," the process behind turning puppets into people, stop-motion sex and the movie's Oscar odds against "Inside Out."
Published Feb. 4, 2016
Are you exhausted by Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the media hullabaloo constantly around it? Do you have about ten free seconds of time to waste? Then you might just love TrumpDonald.org.
Published Feb. 4, 2016
Want to know why you crave those cheese curds? According to a recent study from researchers at the University of Michigan, cheese triggers the same part of the brain as several hard drugs do.
Published Feb. 4, 2016
The Milwaukee Brewers are bringing back their postgame concert series with two performances set for the 2016 season: pop star Andy Grammer and country performer Kip Moore.
Published Feb. 2, 2016
By the time I landed in Park City, Utah Friday for the final days of the Sundance Film Festival, most of the party was dying down. However, the important parts - the movies - were very much still in action. Here are the best and worst of what I saw.
Published Jan. 29, 2016
As we speak, my bucket list is in the process of becoming one entry shorter. I am currently on a plane to Utah, about to attend my first ever Sundance Film Festival. And even though this year's festival is reaching its end, the buzz is still high.