Playing for keeps does what every failed romantic comedy has done in the past five years – put Gerard Butler in the lead role as a charming and funny Ladies Man. Sadly director Gabriele Mucchino learned nothing from the critical and box office drubbing of Butler’s previous rom-com efforts like Bounty Hunter, PS I love you and The Ugly Truth. The result is a painfully unexceptional and hackneyed effort that fizzles the moment it begins.
Apart from the lack of a decent and likable lead, Playing for the lead makes the mistake of wasting the potentials of genuinely likable women like Uma Thurman, Judy Greer and Catherine Zeta Jones, and expects the audience to believe that a shallow sexual predator like Butler’s character would be happier in bed with all of those ladies than with Jessica Biel. It is hard enough to get past the supremely silly premise and it doesn’t help that the majority of the movie is a poorly acted, forced and clichéd hot mess that fails to even be unintentionally funny to offer any kind of entertainment value.
Butler plays George, a bankrupt, divorced former soccer champion who moves into his ex-wife Stacie’s (Biel) town to be closer to her and their nine year old son. George aspires to get his life back on track by becoming the coach of his son’s soccer team – and he does it by hitting on and sleeping with the mothers of the kids in his soccer team. As screenwriting and logic go for a toss, George slowly gets closer to Stacy, leading up to an all too familiar and saccharine finale that expects you to believe in the power of love. Director Mucchino, who displayed a sharp knack of drawing emotions from the audience in The Pursuit of Happyness unfortunately fails to invest any energy into the proceedings. Butler and Biel share no chemistry whatsoever, as the former looks more than happy to collect his paycheck while the latter seems like she was hustled into signing the film. The only thing Playing for keeps going for itself is its pretty cinematography but that is hardly a reason enough to head over to the multiplex for a rom com.
(First published in MiD Day)