Playing for Keeps neither romantic nor funny

Playing for Keeps neither romantic nor funny
By Forrest Hartman

1½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for some sexual situations, language and a brief intense image
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and on demand

These days, too many filmmakers believe the only requirement for a romantic comedy is a handsome leading man and equally attractive leading lady. Meanwhile, things like plot, character development and screen chemistry are largely ignored. This leads to an overabundance of films that are neither romantic nor funny, and the latest is “Playing for Keeps,” a bland affair that wastes its impressive cast.

Viewers are supposed swoon over Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel, and they are fine and charismatic actors when at their best. Unfortunately, writer Robbie Fox and director Gabriele Muccino don’t give them anything to work with.

Butler plays George, a former soccer star who is scrambling to pay the bills because he’s blown all his money. Biel is Stacie, George’s former lover and the mother of his young son, Lewis (Noah Lomax). They live in the same Virginia suburb and have a reasonably good relationship as far as exes go. Stacie encourages George to spend more time with their son, and this eventually leads him to coach a youth soccer team. This decision not only delights Stacie, it grabs the attention of every other mom within eyeshot of George’s perfectly chiseled abs.

The romance, such as it is, comes when viewers learn that George hasn’t gotten over Stacie. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy for him to win her heart because the poor guy has several other soccer moms – including hotties portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman and Judy Greer – falling over themselves to get him in bed. Apparently audiences are supposed to find this funny… or charming… or at least entertaining. In reality, it’s just dull.

Like most modern romantic comedies, it’s easy to figure out where “Playing for Keeps” is going. What’s more, there’s no real chemistry between Butler and Biel, in large part because the backstories of their characters are hopelessly underwritten. Viewers learn that their relationship ended badly, but they are never given a complete explanation of why.

Even if these things had been fleshed out, it’s doubtful that “Playing for Keeps” would have scored. For one thing, George simply isn’t that sympathetic. He’s a good-looking sports star who carelessly blows all his money, loses the woman he loves and – only then – decides it’s time to change his ways. Some might say he deserves a few lumps.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include two featurettes on the making of the film and a collection of deleted scenes.

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