By Ann Hornaday
Friday, December 7, 2012
A dreary, dismally unfunny excuse for a romantic comedy, “Playing for Keeps” is an undistinguished, impact-free watch-checker that will soon be vaguely distracting transatlantic travelers who forgot to carry on their iPads.
As featureless and bland as the suburban Louisiana locations standing in for Northern Virginia, this is a movie that adamantly refuses to live up to its title, aiming instead to lure in a few unsuspecting fans of stars Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel, do its damage and -- with any luck -- disappear quickly from theaters with virtually no one knowing that it ever existed.
As a former soccer star roped into coaching his son’s amateur team, Butler turns on his native Scottish brogue and unshaven “charm” in fending off the advances of the various soccer moms who throw themselves at him with libidinous abandon.
The accomplished actresses who can be seen degrading themselves in this thankless pursuit include Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman and Judy Greer, whose turn-on-a-dime performance in “The Descendants” is reduced here to a burlesque shtick. Biel, as the ex-wife for whom Butler’s character holds a blazing torch, is treated with similarly shallow disdain in a film that primarily asks her to look worried, angry, hurt and reluctantly charmed over and over.
Filmed with crepuscular, underlit dimness and sloppy inattention to pesky details like continuity (look for the disappearing baguette, or Thurman suddenly disappearing from a park bleacher), “Playing for Keeps” is all the more shocking for its arrival during a season of such first-rate mainstream entertainment, from “Lincoln” and “Skyfall” to “Silver Linings Playbook.”
This clunky by-the-numbers place-holder serves to remind us all what dreck Hollywood is capable of pawning off on unsuspecting audiences. On the brighter side, it does provide something of a self-contained negative-feedback loop: Seeing “Playing for Keeps” is a crime that is its own punishment.
Contains sexual situations, profanity and a brief intense image.