*1/2 (out of four)
Poor James Tupper. He played the hero’s ex’s new/inevitably doomed guy in “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and now again in “Playing For Keeps,” which is approximately the same movie. Just with hot soccer moms in place of penguins, I guess.
This time, the absentee dad looking for redemption is George (Gerard Butler), a soccer star who apparently “got more ass than a toilet seat” back in the day. Though he’s no longer competing with toilet seats, George now catches the eye of suspiciously attractive Virginia soccer moms (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer, Uma Thurman), both single and attached, when George begins coaching his estranged son Lewis’s (Noah Lomax) struggling team. Can he earn his son’s trust and show his old flame, Stacie (Jessica Biel), that she shouldn’t marry drier-than-wood Matt (Tupper) before George succumbs to his players’ moms’ seductions?
Written by Robbie Fox, who most recently was one of the three people it took to write 1994’s Pauly Shore vehicle “In the Army Now,” “Playing For Keeps” awkwardly blends family comedy and sex farce and winds up with squat. Dennis Quaid overacts as a dad who throws money and success all over the place, confiding in George so he can acquire the coach as an asset in a pinch.
Director Gabriele Muccino (“The Pursuit of Happyness,” the unwatchable “Seven Pounds”) has no eye for detail or sports. Stacie states that her son is 10 years old and later changes it to 9, and George’s supposedly brilliant ESPN audition—about which he responds goofily, “ESPN?! As in, the ESPN?!”—features clichéd, self-involved commentary that execs would laugh out of the studio.
The hopelessly predictable “Playing For Keeps,” which tacks on a meaningful game when the team's suddenly on the verge of a championship, includes sports metaphors like “You can't score if you don't shoot” and “There's no warm-up shots in life, George.” The film's chief defense is utter mediocrity—a forgettable blandness that makes the film more pathetic than offensive.
Eventually George becomes just like the disinterested coach he replaces, answering his cell during games for no good reason. Despite an uncharacteristically good pair of films in the last year (“Coriolanus,” “Chasing Mavericks”), Butler still needs to learn when to let an offer go to voicemail.
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