A washed up ex-soccer pro tries to reconnect with his young son by coaching his soccer team. Along the way, he also tries to break into a new line of work (sports casting) and win back his ex-wife.
Standing in his way are an army of poorly written, badly acted, hornier than any person ever soccer moms.
What’s a poor family rom-com hero to do?
“Playing for Keeps” is the story of George (Gerard Butler), an ex-professional soccer star who moves to the States in order to be closer to his son. George is a bit down on his luck. He’s unemployed, has creditors calling him, his landlord is after him for the rent, and his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel) is about to remarry. He’s washed out.
Luckily for him though, reconnecting with his son is just the spark his life needs to start moving forward again. When he brings his son to soccer practice for the first time, it’s painfully obvious that the coach is inept and inattentive. So George hops in and starts showing the kids some things himself. His expertise and the fact that the kids are starved to actually be coached leads to a flurry of phone calls from parents asking him to accept the position officially. He’s initially reluctant, but his ex-wife gets it across to him that this is a good way to get involved with his son.
Immediately, once he starts coaching, the soccer moms begin throwing themselves at him. Practically literally. He also draws a man crush from a wealthy soccer dad, Carl (Dennis Quaid), who was a fan from his playing days. Unfortunately Carl’s wife (Uma Thurman) is more of a fan of George’s in the way the other soccer moms are. George has also been trying to break into the sportscasting arena, and one of the moms who has the hots for him (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is in position to help. Of course, she wants a piece of him in return.
So, as George attempts to reconnect with his son and his ex, he also has to fight for a new career while fighting off the lothario temptations that derailed his family life the first time around. Can he finally grow up and become the Dad he should be or will his playboy ways rear their ugly head and undermine everything he’s worked for?
Somewhere in “Playing for Keeps” is a decent little movie. Gerard Butler is a charismatic, good-looking lead who deserves much better material than what I’ve seen him getting, and even though I didn’t 100% buy into the chemistry between the two of them, I think that this was the best acting I’ve seen out of Jessica Biel (not that that’s saying a lot). She really commits, here, and submits a decent dramatic turn. It’s also a fair high concept for a family rom com. The earnest guy trying hard to earn a second chance with his family… finally able to make use of the one thing in life he’s good at (soccer) again.
Unfortunately, the film is saddled with one of the worst scripts you’re ever going to want to see. Every single supporting character is unbearably awful. I think someone must have thought it would be funny, the way the mothers of the team throw themselves at him, but trust me, it isn’t. Judy Greer (as a “Desperate Soccer Mom”) gives one of the worst supporting turns I’ve seen all year. Her weepy, needy, sexually desperate character is about as poorly conceived and acted as you can imagine. Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman and Catherine Zeta-Jones have all taken “Seriously? This is the best you can get?” roles, here. Quaid, like Greer, is a strong contender for my year-end worst acting awards. They were both terrible. Add in the voyeuristic landlord, and the coat rack fiancée that Biel’s character is engaged to, and you have a supporting cast of characters that is universally terrible. The film moves them around the chess board with the deft hand of a walrus, as well. Every time this film actually began to connect with its family drama, one of the comically intentioned fringe characters would show up and completely derail things. It was literally, at times, painful to sit through.
Butler and Biel try their best, and certain stretches focusing on them save this movie from an outright “F”. But this movie is so poorly written and acted that I absolutely understand the 2% Rotten Tomatoes rating it currently holds.