Playing for Keeps is a throwaway movie if ever there was one.
Theshenanigans of randy soccer moms and their obnoxious blowhard husbandsare intended as comic relief. But the sappy plot of this formulaicromantic comedy (* 1/2 out of four; rated PG-13; opening Fridaynationwide) is just as silly as its inane attempts at farce.
Apredictable tale with lackluster performances, it has virtually nothingto recommend it except a 10-year-old actor who outshines the veterancast.
With his soulful brown eyes, and precocious use of language, young Noah Lomax deserves a better vehicle for his screen debut.
GerardButler plays George Dryer, a former soccer star who's now adebt-riddled ne'er-do-well. After failed stints in real estate and as arestaurateur, he moves to suburban Virginia to re-connect with his9-year-old son Lewis (Lomax). Being in closer proximity to his ex-wifeStacie (Jessica Biel) also is part of the game plan. George has nevergotten over her, though she is now engaged to Matt (James Tupper).George decides to reinvent himself as a sportscaster and spends his dayslistlessly making demo reels and dodging his landlord. He takes chargeat one of Lewis' soccer practices, leading a slew of helicopter parentsto press George into coaching duty.
It's hard to say whobenefits more from this arrangement - the players or their well-heeledmoms. The women spend practices ogling, flirting and chasing after thehunky former athlete. Let the panting begin.
Even the dads arestarry-eyed in George's presence. Dennis Quaid plays a despicablebusinessman, throwing wads of cash and a bright red Ferrari at the newcoach to make sure his son gets to play and his daughter has the chanceto perform her tone-deaf version of the national anthem before thegames.
Biel is blandly earnest and has little chemistry with Butler, who forges a more believable bond with young Lomax.
.It's a shame to see such talented actresses as Catherine Zeta-Jonesand Uma Thurman reduced to cardboard-cutout sexpot roles. Thurman playsa wealthy matron, married to Quaid. She has only a few lines andutters most of them while in her underwear. Zeta-Jones is a former ESPNreporter who offers to help George into a sportscasting gig and out ofhis pants.
Also fluttering around is Judy Greer, who plays atremulous divorcee. Something about the hunky George makes herrepeatedly bursts into tears, until she finds her way to his bachelorpad and bed. Eventually most of the moms make their way there,uninvited, as if each is equipped with a passion-seeking GPS.
Butlerhas developed an unerring instinct for picking some of the worst moviesthen coasting on the Scottish charm that served him well earlier in hiscareer. His cute-scruffy appeal has worn thin. His choicesping-pong from thuddingly generic rom-coms (The Bounty Hunter, The Ugly Truth) to such violence-drenched revenge thrillers as Law Abiding Citizen and Machine Gun Preacher. He never comes close to rising above the leaden material.
Striving for heartwarming but settling for cloying, Playing for Keeps is no keeper.