This is supposed to be the time of year when high-quality movies come out, whether they’re potential Oscar contenders or crowd-pleasing family fare.
So the presence of flat, hacky, unfunny dreck like “Playing for Keeps” — the kind of film that ordinarily tries to fly under the radar in January or February but would be torture to sit through in any month — is a total mystery.
It is truly baffling that all the talented, acclaimed actors involved actually read this script and then agreed to devote their time to this movie, especially given its uncomfortably flagrant misogynistic streak. Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman couldn’t possibly need work this badly. And yet, here they are as soccer moms shamelessly throwing themselves at Gerard Butler and his tousled, manly mane.
The Scottish hunk, still struggling with comedy following “The Ugly Truth” and “The Bounty Hunter,” stars as George Dryer, a once-great soccer star who’s now divorced and in financial straits. At the film’s start, he has moved to suburban Virginia to reconnect with his ex-wife, Stacie (Jessica Biel), and their young son, Lewis (Noah Lomax). Naturally, a couple of things happen pretty quickly, accompanied by an intrusively jaunty score. First, George gets suckered into coaching his kid’s soccer team. Then, the mothers of all the other 9-year-olds start brazenly hitting on him, regardless of whether they’re married or single. They’re just so wildly hormonal, they can’t control themselves.
Director Gabriele Muccino, who’s had mixed results with Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “Seven Pounds,” veers awkwardly between wacky hijinks and facile sentimentality, and Robbie Fox’s script doesn’t feature a single character who resembles an actual human being. George is weirdly indifferent in the face of all this attention, the low point of which finds Thurman as a married socialite sneaking into his bed in a black bra and panties to seduce him in the middle of the night.
Then there’s Greer, usually a standout comedian who can do nothing with her flimsy role as a needy, stalky divorcee. Zeta-Jones at least has the benefit of looking stylish and sultry as the former TV personality who uses her connections to woo him. But George doesn’t seem interested in any of these people, so why should we be?
(Ah yes, there’s a whole subplot in which George aspires to be a sports anchor and magically gets a job offer as a soccer analyst on ESPN, despite having zero on-air experience, after just one audition. Because there’s a bounty of TV gigs out there just ripe for the picking. Do you think he’ll leave this family, just as he’s started to bond with them again, and move to Bristol, Conn., to take it???)
The men don’t fare much better. Dennis Quaid is singularly manic and skeevy as Thurman’s husband, a flashy high roller with a wicked jealous streak. And Stacie’s personality-free fiance (James Tupper) apparently has no job, friends or interests, but rather hangs around the house all day waiting to answer the front door disapprovingly when George arrives to pick up his son.
The one woman with an actual backbone and sense of values in this movie is Biel’s character. Unfortunately, she’s also rendered as bland, conservative and, oddly, a little frumpy. It’s difficult to tell what sort of magic these two forged together years ago and flat-out impossible to care whether they’ll reconcile, although — spoiler! — that’s just one of the many elements of the lazy, formulaic game plan in play here.
“Playing for Keeps,” a FilmDistrict release, is rated PG-13 for some sexual situations, language and a brief intense image. Running time: 105 minutes. Zero stars out of four.