I've been sitting in the same spot for the past two hours attempting to come up with a nice way to put my feelings about "Playing for Keeps," the latest stalled romantic star vehicle for Gerard Butler. But I just can't.
"Playing for Keeps" is soul-sucking. It is almost devious in its blandness. The film's only remarkable feature is how crushingly unremarkable it is. Not a performance sticks out. Not a moment sticks out. My mind keeps replaying the movie in my head, trying to find something to love or hate but instead just finding apathy. I'd say that "Playing for Keeps" dares you to care, but I don't think it dares to do anything at all.
Butler, still somehow riding his fame from "300," plays George Dryer, a former soccer star who dropped off the face of the planet after an ankle injury made him leave the professional game. Now, he spends his nights attempting to make a demo reel for ESPN, barely making his rent payments and trying to win back the hearts of his son Lewis (Noah Lomax, adequately adorable) and his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel).
Inspiration knocks or, rather, kicks (Ugh, I hate myself for that pun) when George witnesses his son's dysfunctional soccer practice, led by a horribly inept and distracted fellow parent. George takes over as coach, turning the band of lovable misfits into Real Madrid. He also starts catching the eyes of the various bored soccer moms in attendance (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer and Uma Thurman) and not just due to his fancy footwork. Dennis Quaid also shows up as Thurman's high-strung rich husband who gifts Dryer with an envelope of money and a Ferrari. Because that's what rich people do, I guess.
Will George be able to overcome the horny soccer moms' endless come-ons and win his way back into his ex-wife's heart? And what of the job opportunity across the country at ESPN? And why am I staring into my empty Junior Mints box in the hopes of finding something remotely interesting?
Director Gabriele Muccino's previous American efforts, "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Seven Pounds," were accused of pulling on the heartstrings too hard. In some strange response to that criticism, Muccino seems unwilling to do anything at all in "Playing for Keeps." The jokes, the romance and the plot points all hit with remarkable thuds. The only thing attempting to wring some emotion is the cloying score, which tries its best to make up for the film's oppressive flatness. The result is like eating cardboard with a side of Pixy Stix and caramel.
Muccino doesn't get much support from his cast. Butler seems like a nice guy, but he adds nothing to his role. It's becoming more and more apparent that his breakout role in "300," which really only required abs and the ability to yell catchphrases, wasn't quite the star-making turn we thought it might be. Not that his script choices (see "Playing for Keeps," "Chasing Mavericks," almost anything he's done since "300") help his cause.
As the temptations throwing themselves mindlessly at Butler, Zeta-Jones, Greer and Thurman don't have much to do. The always-welcome Greer is the only one who makes much of an impression, but the character is still not much to speak of. As the conflicted ex-wife, Biel is the only character with any substance (or the script's feeble attempt at substance), but the "7th Heaven" alum is also the weakest actress in the film. Everything is skin-deep, like she knows what a particular emotion looks like but not what it feels like.
Together, this band of lifeless drones sleepwalk through Robbie Fox's hodge-podge screenplay, his first since a 1994 Pauly Shore movie, in case you needed any more reasons to avoid this mindless distraction. The story attempts to juggle several plotlines and characters, but it's all for naught. "Playing for Keeps" is all cliches, none of them interesting. When a romance gets derailed by a typical miscommunication that could be solved with a simple sentence (a trope from approximately every dumb romantic comedy in history), my eyes rolled right out of my skull.
I'll give "Playing for Keeps" this: It's generally pleasant. Even when things are supposedly in the dumps, everything is all smiles, albeit of the blank variety. The film qualifies as nice, but nice is very different from entertaining or interesting. As it stands, nice is the only thing stopping "Playing for Keeps" from causing mind-numbing hatred. Just mind-numbing.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published March 30, 2015
Flying is statistically the safest form of transportation. It's a popular sentiment, one commonly recited to restore confidence in the important industry after tragic disasters like the deadly Germanwings crash last week. For "Pilot Error" writer and film producer Roger Rapoport, however, that statement isn't as accurate as we'd like to think.
Published March 29, 2015
For a lot of Hollywood, making a kids movie translates out to making essentially a mobile: a simply distracting mix of color and sound. And that's how you get "Home," another manic Sweet Tarts-colored whizbang to be mentally tossed away like an empty popcorn bucket as soon as the film lets out. Yes, the kids will be sated. For anyone older, however, the cue to leave "Home" to go home likely won't come soon enough.
Published March 26, 2015
By most definitions, director Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt to adapt Frank Herbert's "Dune" to the big screen in the mid-'70s was a failure. The filmmaker's furiously inventive and imaginative movie never made it to the big screen, but man ... what a trip it would've been, at least certainly judging by Frank Pavich's hypnotically fascinating documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune," showing tonight at 7 p.m. at the UWM Union Theatre.
Published March 25, 2015
I'm starting to get concerned about Jack O'Connell. First there was "Starred Up," in which he plays a violent prison inmate; then he starred in the two-hour beatdown-palooza that was "Unbroken." And now there's "'71," which doesn't even get five seconds in before it's punching O'Connell in the face and dragging him through mud. If he insists on essentially self-flagellating on screen, though, at least it's in the service of a quite good movie.
Published March 25, 2015
2015 is shaping up to be a world tour of beloved classic rock stars. The Rolling Stones are expected to announce a Milwaukee stop ... at some point. Ringo Starr is heading to the Riverside in October, the same month The Who will celebrate its 50th anniversary at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Also celebrating 50 years of existence: Pink Floyd, hitting the Riverside stage Thursday and Friday night. Well, kind of - in the form of tribute band Brit Floyd.
Published March 23, 2015
If "Divergent" was like "The Hunger Games" took a brick to the head, then "Insurgent" plays like "The Hunger Games" got lost in a brick hail storm. The sequel doubles down on the idiocy, incoherence and creative kleptomania the first film struggled through. Part one made it palatable; part two makes it laughable.
Published March 21, 2015
Early on in the 2014-15 season, the Milwaukee Rep staged "The Color Purple." It's a show actress Felicia P. Fields knows very well; after all, her turn as Sofia in the Broadway musical scored her a Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical back in 2006. It's another familiar show, however, that brings Fields back to Milwaukee: "Low Down Dirty Blues," a celebration of classic blues at its deepest and dirtiest.
Published March 21, 2015
Vampires have gotten a bad rap over the last decade or so,but while the recent vampire trend has provided some pretty craterous, sell-out lows, it's also spawned a fair amount of impressive highs for the notorious neck-nibblers. For example: "What We Do in the Shadows," a hilarious New Zealand import that gushes goofy laughs like a comedy hemophiliac.
Published March 19, 2015
The Uptowner was packed and not just for a late Sunday afternoon. Jock Jams blared from the speakers, and anticipation was in the air. On two TVs at separate ends of the bar, the Wisconsin-Michigan State game was coming down to the wire. But that wasn't the contest the excited and eager crowd was here to see. No, the main event was the Uptowner's third annual beard competition.
Published March 19, 2015
"Run All Night" has little interest in just simply delivering B-movie thrills; it wants to be taken seriously. It wants to be a drama about men - about fathers and sons, about the family we choose and the family we're stuck with - and sins and regrets. Unfortunately, more just results in less in "Run All Night," with the dour drama and B-movie action combining to make a movie that feels more like "Amble All Night" or perhaps "Dawdle Through Dusk."