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'Playing for Keeps': What the Critics are Saying

Jessica Biel Gerard Butler Playing For Keeps - H 2012
Dale Robinette/FilmDistrict

The romantic comedy stars Gerard Butler as a retired soccer player who attracts the soccer moms from his son's team, but the film fails to score as an end-of-the-year favorite with critics.

Gerard Butler stars in Gabriele Muccino’s romantic comedy as a former international pro soccer player who retires and moves to Virginia to rekindle his relationship with his son and ex-wife, Stacie (starring Jessica Biel). Although he hopes to start a new career as a sportscaster, Butler finds himself coaching for his son’s soccer team instead. Unexpectedly, he experiences a slew of soccer moms, played by Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Judy Greer, who can’t keep their hands off him.

The film, written by Robbie Fox, doesn’t quite make its goal as the weekend’s must-see flick as critics describe the rom-com as a “bland script," “wavering tone” and “listless screenplay.”

Read below to see what top critics are saying:

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The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Farber said it’s not a movie that will be remembered for years to come: “This is a good premise for a comedy, but somewhere along the way, it got diluted and turned into a sappy, feel-good story of family togetherness. Butler’s fans may help to draw an audience for the film in its opening weekend, but it will be gone by 2013. This one’s no keeper.”

He further explains, “Another drawback of this wavering tone is that most of the actors are stranded with one-note characters to play. Greer and Zeta-Jones are still fun to watch. Zeta-Jones in particular gives a delectable performance as a sexy minx who dangles her connections with ESPN to charm George out of his pants. But Thurman’s role is completely underdeveloped. In one scene she’s the imperious hostess at a neighborhood party, and in the next she’s a panting sex fiend who turns up in George’s guest house in black bra and panties.”

Christy Lemire from Associated Press shared the same thought: “It is truly baffling that all the talented, acclaimed actors involved actually read this script and then agreed to devote their time to this movie, especially given its uncomfortably flagrant misogynistic streak. Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman couldn't possibly need work this badly. And yet, here they are as soccer moms shamelessly throwing themselves at Gerard Butler and his tousled, manly mane.”

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However, Examiner’s Joe Belcastro appreciated the soccer moms: “The only time yours truly wants to see Gerard Butler on the screen is when he’s pummeling multiple human beings to a bloody pulp. But just as he wins over a bunch of soccer moms in Playing for Keeps, he now has my acceptance as suitable multi-genre performer (because he was worried about my approval).”

Mark Jenkins at NPR was less of a fan and wondered about the quality of the actors’ performances: “Similar questions can be posed about the lead performers, Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel. Does his performance display easygoing charm, or just the laziness of a big-screen sitcom specialist who is also one of the movie's producers? Does her array of indulgent smiles and occasional tears constitute subtlety, or is the two-note characterization just all she could make of Robbie Fox's bland script?”

Giving the movie two out of five stars, Elizabeth Weitzman of New York Daily News wrote, “There’s not a moment of surprise in the listless screenplay by Robbie Fox (whose biggest credits are So I Married an Axe Murderer and In the Army Now). But both leads evoke a hard-won pragmatism that runs stubbornly counter to the frothy action and chipper score.”

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Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips gave it an even lower score with one-and-a-half stars, remarking that “some movies are 100 percent polyester, yet the right actors can make the material breathe a little so that the audience wears the experience comfortably for a couple of hours. Opening this month, the Barbra Streisand/Seth Rogen vehicle The Guilt Trip belongs to that poly-genre.”

Phillips added “And then there's Playing for Keeps, which is more of a manure-poly blend. The romantic comedy stars Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman, a bizarrely twitchy Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Judy Greer. Only Biel and Greer lift it above the level of bleh.”

A.O. Scott of New York Times concluded “What he [Butler] cannot seem to do is to convey any sense of the emotional stakes, but this may also be the fault of an all-over-the-place script (by Robbie Fox) and of Gabriele Muccino’s uneven direction. Sometimes the movie swerves toward farce, sometimes into the zone of smiley family comedy and at other times into full-on weepiness. None of it is especially credible or engaging.”

Playing for Keeps opens in theaters on Nov. 7.