Keep away from 'Keeps' 

Latest Gerard Butler vehicle is a dud.


"Playing for Keeps," the perfectly harmless if cloyingly banal semi-comedy that just wafted into theaters, has the sort of plot that does not, alas, attract much attention to the screenwriter at rooftop cocktail parties.

Aspiring starlet: "And what do you do?"

Robbie Fox, screenwriter: "I write the movies."

A.S.: "Oh! Really. What have you written?"

Fox: "Well, I wrote 'So I Married an Axe Murderer.' "

A.S.: "Doesn't ring a bell."

Fox: "It starred Mike Myers? Came out in — oh, 1993. Probably before your time."

A.S.: "No, I was born in 1989, so not quite. Anything more recent?"

Fox: "Yeah! OK, yes, it's, uh, it's a soccer movie. Basically Gerard Butler, the Spartan king in '300,' that guy, he's a washed-up soccer star. He's Scottish but he's living in Virginia, near his ex-wife, Jessica Biel. They've got a 9-year-old son, but the retired athlete, George, has never really been much of a father. So he coaches the kid's soccer team and tries to fend off all the single soccer moms and then tries to get back together with Jessica Biel before she gets married to a guy with no discernable personality whatsoever."

A.S.: (blank stare)

Fox: "It's a family comedy, but you also get to see Uma Thurman in her underwear. Also George is trying to get a job as a sportscaster. Because he's broke."

... So you're hooked, right? Because what could go wrong with a movie about watching Gerard Butler run little kids around cones while he waddles through a mid-life crisis, weaving in and out of romantic scrapes?

As it turns out, plenty. For starters, the guy who six years ago was screaming "Spartans never retreat! Spartans never surrender!" at a pack of bloodthirsty, spear-wielding Abercrombie models is now telling a pack of rugrats to bring it in for a chant of "one, two, three, Go Cyclones!" and if you remember listening to Nine Inch Nails' "Just Like You Imagined" over the trailer for "300," this is an altogether unforgivable situation. (YouTube it. Seriously.)

Even if it's terribly small-bore, you have to give "Playing for Keeps" this much: It seems earnest in its apparent attempt to sandwich a family drama around the former soccer great and the woman with whom he couldn't hold it together. Alas that leaves director Gabriele Muccino flinging Butler (b. 1969) in the general direction of Biel (b. 1982) for most of the film while a cougar brigade that includes Uma (vamping), Catherine Zeta-Jones (panting) and Judy Greer (cringe-inducing) fling themselves at Butler. Dennis Quaid also shows up as a greasy high-roller soccer dad, turning in probably the film's best performance. But even he isn't funny. No one here is. The basics here are often amiss. The tone's mottled. The dialogue is rote. Even if you're not the sort of person who notices cinematography, you'll find yourself wondering why some key shots are full of the backs of people's heads.

Butler's clearly trying to balance his age against the types of roles he can expect at his age. (He also has a producer credit in "Playing for Keeps," so this really is his baby.) It can't all be "300" and "Machine Gun Preacher" and "RocknRolla" forever, even when you're 40-something and still have abs like a marimba. You have to show leading-man range. Unfortunately this fellow George, this protagonist, he is something of a non-character. He's a nice guy, and he tries to do the right thing. But there are precisely three phases of life in which a man is at his most vapid. They are: When he tries to get a job doing television news. When he tries to talk his way out of women's romantic advances. When he tries to talk his way back into the life of his about-to-be-married ex. Alas, Butler is all three in this movie, and at no point does he say anything particularly memorable, interesting or inspiring. This. Is. Not. Sparta.

Film Details

Playing for Keeps
Rated PG-13 · 105 min. · 2012
Official Site:
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Writer: Robbie Fox
Producer: Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short and Ed Cathell III
Cast: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman, Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Quaid, James Tupper, Joe Chrest, Sean O'Bryan and Jon Mack


Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for Playing for Keeps


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Sam Eifling

Most Shared

  • Bill to regulate dog breeders draws opposition inside chamber from industry rep

    A fight could be brewing over regulation of puppy mills, with legislation planned to better protect dogs and opposition already underway from a state representative who makes a living working with commercial dog breeders.
  • Arkansas's new anti-gay law forgets history

    It turns back the clock on civil rights.
  • The hart

    It is hard for a straight person, The Observer included, to imagine what it would be like to be born gay — to be shipwrecked here on this space-going clod, where nearly every textbook, novel, film and television show, nearly every blaring screen or billboard or magazine ad, reinforces the idea that "normal" means "heterosexual."
  • Presbytery of Arkansas opposes bills aimed at gay discrimination

    The Presbytery of Arkansas, the governing body for Presbyterian churches in the northern two-thirds of Arkansas, met Saturday at Clarksville and adopted a resolution urging Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto SB 202, which is aimed at preventing local government from passing anti-discrimination laws to protect gay people. The Presbytery also expressed its opposition to a pending House bill that, in the name of "conscience," would protect those who discriminate against gay people.
  • Death penalty repeal clears Senate Committee

    The Senate Judiciary Committee has endorsed Sen. David Burnett's bill to repeal the death penalty.

Latest in Movie Reviews

Event Calendar

« »


1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Most Viewed

  • American Lions take round four

    The Showcase continues Thursday, Feb. 26.
  • Miranda Lambert returns to Verizon

    Also, 'To Light a Candle' at Robinson, 7 Bands 7 Bucks at Low Key Arts, The Tontons and Wild Mocassin at Stickyz, 'James and the Giant Peach' at Ron Robinson and Jonathan Richman at Juanita's.
  • Could have been worse

    'Hot Tub 2' scores some chuckles.
  • Hogs play team ball

    The dearth of team cohesiveness had killed Arkansas basketball in recent years. "Hawgball" more or less died because in-house friction led to on-court product that bore the evidence of dissent. Not to pick on any individual players, but you never sensed that in the last years of Nolan Richardson's regime or Stan Heath's or John Pelphrey's respective tenures that the players did the so-called "buy-in" or cared much about team unity.

Most Recent Comments


© 2015 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation