Technology is evolving at such an exponential rate that movies are now made in a matter of weeks, rather than months. Obviously there are some exceptions like Avatar and other CG-heavy films. Technology hasn’t just shortened the time it takes to produce movies, it has increased the sheer volume of movies exponentially. In 2011 there were over 200 movies released to the theaters. That doesn’t count straight to video movies. In 2001 there were only 150 movies released to theaters. Keep in mind, these stats are only for the United States. The point is with so many movies being released each week how do the studios keep coming up with original ideas? In most cases they don’t come up with new ideas. Movies today are typically rehashed, rebooted, sequel-ed or prequel-ed. Playing for Keeps isn’t a sequel, prequel or reboot, so it must be a rehash to some extent.
The story centers around George, an ex-pro soccer player who has basically hit rock bottom. He now resides in Virginia to be closer to his ex-wife Stacie and son Lewis. George is a charming character who means well, but just can’t get his act together. Noah is a small boy who has had an absentee father for as long as he can remember, and isn’t quite sure what to make of his father being around more often. One day George steps in on Lewis’ soccer practice and starts coaching the kids. From this point forward George’s life takes some interesting twists and turns. His son seems to be warming up to him and the soccer moms really take an interest in him as well. George enjoys his new found fame, so to speak. While the plot is predictable and the laughs are spread pretty thin, the star power in this film is enough to keep the production shining bright.
George is played by Gerard Butler (300, The Bounty Hunter). While Butler’s finest performance to date is 300, he still does a respectable job in this slightly egotistical but grounded role. He’s actually quite believable as an ex-pro soccer player who is down on his luck. So many professional athletes these days squander their money and when the limelight runs out… and so does the money. Jessica Biel (The Illusionist, The A-Team) plays George’s ex-wife Stacie. At first glance it would seem this is a stereotypical role for Biel, but she plays a rather serious part and does a good job. While this isn’t an overly complex character by any means, she still delivers a believable performance. She seems to nail this role as a semi-bitter and now straight-laced suburban mom. Lewis played by Noah Lomax (The Middle, Mad Love) and does well in his role. He runs the gamut of emotions involved in this divorcee child role and delivers a convincing performance for a child actor.
While the star power was fairly bright in this film, it was still a small cast, which works well. The next actor that stands out is Judy Greer (13 Going on 30, The Descendants), who plays Barb. Judy takes a semi-small part and delivers a giant performance. In fact, the majority of the laughs in the film were directly related to her appearances on the screen. Dennis Quaid (Frequency, Vantage Point) who plays Carl, also delivers a commanding performance, playing that crazy neighbor who just won’t leave you alone. While he does not seem like that kind of guy, in person or on the screen, he is very convincing as the annoying neighbor here. Catherine Zeta-Jones (Entrapment, Chicago) as “Denise” has a relatively small part, but does a fair job in her role. She plays the typical, rich, bored housewife. While she didn’t jump off the screen like Judy Greer, she played her part well. Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction, Gattaca) plays Patti, the wife of Carl “The Crazy Neighbor.” At first glance she is quiet and reserved and then we realize she is just as crazy as Carl. Uma Thurman actually delivered a rather enjoyable performance in this film.
Sitting in the director’s chair for this movie was Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness, Seven Pounds). Gabriele has directed some really deep and moving films. It’s somewhat surprising that he would direct a shallow, surface story. However, it is no surprise why the studio would bring Gabriele in to direct this. Under his direction you feel a certain polish and depth of character. This doesn’t take the movie to the level of Oscar contention, but Gabriele certainly helped hold this together. He’s no stranger to the director’s chair and does a fine job with the movie as a whole. Given the content of the production and the target audience, this film really is put together well. Muccino’s background with other films explains why certain parts of the story were drawn out. It also explains the emphasis on certain key aspects of the movie.
This part of the review that will tie everything together. Robbie Fox (So I Married an Axe Murderer, In the Army Now) wrote this screenplay. The surprising part is that Robbie’s last screenwriting credit was for In the Army Now (1994). In fact, he doesn’t seem to have done much of anything in Hollywood since 1994. It seems as though Robbie did various uncredited writing jobs over the last eight years, but nothing on the radar. Given the content of his previous screenplays, this film makes a lot more sense. You take Robbie’s writing style and blend it with Gabriele’s directing style and you end up with Playing for Keeps. Regardless of any critiques in this review, the movie is actually quite entertaining. Given the sheer volume of movies that hit theaters today, it is amazing writers are able to come up with anything even remotely original.
This production, taken at face value, is a good time. If you are looking for a date movie and a chance to unwind, it’s a cute film. If you dig too deep below the surface you might be disappointed in what you find. All-in-all the movie is well acted, but could move along a bit more swiftly in certain spots. There really aren’t any surprises in the film. You know what’s going to happen, but it’s fun to watch the story unfold. While a lot of it is very predictable, it’s still a feel good movie. If you go into this expecting a few laughs from a feel good film, then you are in for a treat. Playing for Keeps is certainly not the typical December Oscar contender, but it gives moviegoers some variety and it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.