‘Playing for Keeps’ wavers between comedy, melodrama

The ruggedly appealing Scots-born actor Gerard Butler has spent some time laboring in the salt mines of romantic comedy, as “The Bounty Hunter” and “P.S. I Love You” can attest. The new one, “Playing for Keeps,” appears to be more of the same.

Ah, but this movie wants to get serious, wants to tug a few heartstrings. And boy, does it tug.

The lead role ought to be a winner for Butler: he plays George Dryer, a reasonably well-known soccer player in his day, now retired and broke and re-located to Virginia. He’s there because his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) lives there, and George wants to be close to their son (Noah Lomax).

With his artfully tousled hair, his beaten-up sports car, and — of course — the accent, George is a sensation amongst the single moms whose kids play soccer with his son. He seems vaguely interested in rekindling things with the ex, but these other women keep flinging themselves at him, and really, what’s a guy to do?

“Playing for Keeps” feels like three different movies vying for attention. The one in which rascally George juggles the ladies is the funniest of the bunch, but it sits awkwardly next to the sensitive-dad stuff.

The gallery of prospective mates is populated by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman and Judy Greer (lately seen in “The Descendants”). Of those three, Greer has the best moments, as an overly aggressive divorcee who doesn’t mind camping out in front of George’s bachelor pad at midnight.

Dennis Quaid has a few manic scenes as a high-roller who really likes the idea of having a celebrity sports star as a new buddy. Quaid reminds you of how good he can be when he gets his juices going.

Director Gabriele Muccini, who generally works in the sentiment-heavy vein of “The Pursuit of Happyness,” is in no hurry to resolve these issues, as though unaware that he needs to keep this kind of thing zipping along. The audience is way, way ahead of the plot.

Butler’s ingratiating, as usual, although the film would’ve benefited from his digging down a bit deeper beyond the casual charisma.

Jessica Biel, who’s currently playing Vera Miles in the dumb “Hitchcock” biopic, is oddly grounded and affecting; someday this actress is going to get into a really good movie and surprise a lot of people.

But not this time. Pleasant but far too slow, “Playing for Keeps” isn’t quite one thing or the other, despite the charming accent.

“Playing for Keeps” (2 stars)

Former soccer player Gerard Butler wants to get close to his ex-wife and their son, but the single moms just keep flinging themselves at him. The movie’s not sure whether it should be a comedy or a heartstring-tugger, and doesn’t succeed at either, although Jessica Biel is rather affecting as the ex.

Rated: PG-13, for language, subject matter

Showing: Alderwood, Cinebarre, Everett, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Meridian, Oak Tree, Sundance, Woodinville, Cascade.

More in Life

‘Last Jedi’ is the best ‘Star Wars’ movie since the first one

This instant-classic popcorn movie makes clever references to the past while embracing the new.

Jesse Sykes brings her evolving sounds to Cafe Zippy in Everett

She and Phil Wandscher make a return trip to a club that she values for its intimacy.

Red wine usually costs more, but you can still find bargains

Here are five good-quality reds that won’t drain your grocery budget.

Beer of the Week: Skull Splitter and Blood of My Enemies

Aesir Meadery of Everett and Whiskey Ridge Brewing of Arlington collaborated to make two braggots.

Beer, wine, spirits: Snohomish County booze calendar

Ugly Sweater Party and Canned Food Drive at Whitewall: Marysville’s Whitewall Brewing… Continue reading

Student winners to perform concertos with Mukilteo orchestra

This annual show is a partnership with the Snohomish County Music Teachers Association.

‘Ferdinand’ a modern take on the beloved children’s story

The lovable bull is back in an enjoyable but spotty animated film from the makers of “Ice Age.”

Playwright alleges misconduct by Hoffman when she was 16

A classmate of Dustin Hoffman’s daughter says the actor exposed himself in 1980.

Art mimicks reality in engrosing ‘On the Beach at Night Alone’

The Korean film tells the story of an actress recovering from an affair with a married director.

Most Read