Directed by: Gabriele Muccino
Premise: A former professional soccer player (Gerard Butler) begins coaching his son’s soccer team. As the team improves, the new coach tries to reconcile his relationship with his son and ex-wife (Jessica Biel) while also courting the affections of soccer moms.
What Works: Playing for Keeps stars actors who are better than the film they are in and Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel deserve some credit for fighting through it.
What Doesn’t: Playing for Keeps is an example of a movie that is drifting in too many directions at once and ends up going nowhere. The filmmakers seem fundamentally confused about what this movie is supposed to be. On the outset, Playing for Keeps looks like a satire of youth sports in the same manner as the Will Ferrell picture Kicking and Screaming. Unfortunately, Playing for Keeps is stupider and less funny than Ferrell’s movie, which is saying something. The soccer portion of the film is based on other youth-sports films like The Mighty Ducks and The Bad News Bears, in which the team members learn to work together and the coach matures into a leader. But this part of the story is only done in brief. Gerard Butler’s character never establishes a rapport with the kids and the children are never characterized. That is one of the strangest things about Playing for Keeps: it is ostensibly a sports movie but with virtually no sports in it. Instead, the movie veers off from the terrain of a family-friendly soccer movie and becomes a PG-13 sex comedy. As Butler’s character takes on the coaching duties he finds the soccer moms literally throwing themselves at him. At this point the film gets downright ugly. With the exception of Biel’s character, all the women of Playing for Keeps are lunatics, engaging in behavior that would be considered pathological anywhere except in a Hollywood movie, where it is apparently deemed romantic. Although both male and female characters are awful, the portrayal of women in Playing for Keeps is far worse, as they alternately offer themselves up to their kid’s soccer coach or go on spontaneous manic breakdowns. This could be played for laughs if Playing for Keeps was a satire like Best in Show or a dark comedy like American Beauty but it isn’t and the filmmakers manage to make it worse by interchanging the sex comedy subplot with scenes of the main character trying to reconcile his relationship with his son and ex-wife. As awful as the misogyny of this film is, it is the reconciliation plotline in which Playing for Keeps does its worst. Like 2011’s Mr. Popper’s Penguins, this is yet another film apparently aimed at family audiences in which children of divorce are told that their parents will reconcile just as soon as their dad gets his act together. This message of false hope is delivered especially ham-fistedly in the ending. The story sets up a conflict in which Butler vies for a sports broadcasting job that requires him to relocate, while his ex-wife plans to marry her new love, committing her and their son to the present location. The film’s resolution of this conflict manages to combine multiple clichés together for a finale that is extraordinarily stupid.
Bottom Line: In the end, Playing for Keeps attempts to be a heartwarming family movie about a man reconciling with his ex-wife while nailing the mothers of his son’s soccer team. Playing for Keeps was written by Robbie Fox, who had not had a script produced in eighteen years, his last being the 1994 Pauly Shore vehicle In the Army Now. Let’s hope it’s another eighteen years before his next travesty.
Episode: #419 (December 16, 2012)