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Movie Review: Playing for Keeps

By Bob Garver

Dec. 10, 2012. It is clear from its opening weekend that “Playing for Keeps” is one of the biggest bombs of the year, both critically and commercially. Review database Rotten Tomatoes has it at a 2% “Fresh” rating for its one positive review vs. 59 negative ones (and Leonard Maltin gives it only faint praise in his “positive” review). It has also flopped at the box office, opening in sixth place on a weekend when the top five films have all been out for at least three weeks.

The film is almost as bad as its reputation. George Dryer (Gerard Butler) is a washed-up soccer player trying to win back his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) and son (Noah Lomax). He works his way back into their lives by agreeing to coach the son’s soccer team. This new role helps him bond with his son (the film is halfway tolerable during these scenes) and makes him an object of desire for the moms of the other kids (the film is in no way tolerable during these scenes). The film is mostly dull and mediocre except for a few parts where it is wholly painful.

There is no reason to see “Playing for Keeps” for enjoyment, so you may as well see it to have fun at its expense. The time has come to revive Popcorn Games. Eat popcorn according to what happens in the movie, assuming you can stay awake. Some suggestions:

  • Eat a piece of popcorn every time George is late for an activity with his son.
  • Eat a piece whenever George is hesitant to commit his time to soccer activities despite the fact that he is unemployed and there doesn’t seem to be anything he’d rather be doing.
  • Eat a piece and make sure your phone is off when the team’s disinterested original coach distractedly talks on his cell phone during practice. The players’ parents are watching from the stands; I have a hard time believing that they wouldn’t chew him out for not paying attention.
  • Shake your head and eat a piece when George advises the kids that they can’t score if they don’t shoot. Great, now all the kids are going to shoot and none of them are going to pass.
  • Eat a piece whenever the movie tries to build phony suspense in the soccer games despite the huge advantage that George’s team enjoys by having a superstar ringer for a coach.
  • Eat a piece every time someone mentions how sexy George’s Scottish accent is. Eat two pieces when he himself mentions how sexy it is.
  • Dennis Quaid plays the crooked dad of one of the other kids on the team. Eat a piece that’s really greasy with topping whenever his sleaziness is way over the top. In other words, eat a greasy piece every time Quaid is on screen.
  • Judy Greer plays a mom who falls for George. Her distinguishing trait is that she cries a lot. We’re supposed to think that this is funny. Eat a salty piece when she cries. Not in tribute to her tears, but mine when I think of how she was great in “The Descendants” and now she’s stooping to this.
  • Eat a piece whenever the women onscreen talk about Butler’s sex appeal as if they have nothing better to talk about.
  • Throw a piece at your open mouth without really aiming whenever a respectable actress brainlessly throws herself at Butler. This includes Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones as a sportscaster, and Uma Thurman as Quaid’s wife.
  • Almost forget to eat a piece when the film makes a passing reference to the Biel character’s well-meaning fiancé (James Tupper). The film almost forgets him most of the time, and finally forgets him for good at the end.
  • And finally, eat a burnt piece when you imagine that the actors are going to “fire” somebody for casting them in this miserable movie.

One and a Half Stars out of Five. 

“Playing for Keeps” is rated PG-13 for some sexual situations, language and a brief intense image. Its running time is 106 minutes.