‘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

Using a rod to assist in running wiring through an attic space, Don Thomas, of R&D Handyman Service, works on installing a ceiling fan at a home in SE Everett on Monday, July 24, 2017 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
                                Don Thomas of R&D Handyman Service installs a ceiling fan at a home in southeast Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
When fall chores loom, just hand them to the handyman

Here are three local businesses that can help you prepare your home for the rainy season.

And this year’s winners of Everett’s Monte Cristo Awards are…

The awards recognize local homeowners and businesses that take special care of their properties.

‘Happy Death Day’ applies ‘Groundhog Day’ premise on horror genre

Smart writing and Jessica Rothe’s performance make this worth seeing.

Adventurer 1st to finish Race to Alaska on stand-up paddleboard

Karl Kruger will speak about his trip at the Everett Mountaineers Banquet on Nov. 4 in Lynnwood.

Therapy helped ease debilitating pain after injury

Columnist Jennifer Bardsley shares her experiences with complex regional pain syndrome.

How to prune a hydrangea: An exception to the pruning rule

It helps to think of a growing blackberry vine when you’re about to cut back this blooming shrub.

Visiting Germany’s Lutherland, birthplace of Reformation

The sights include the church where the first Protestant service took place in 1521.

Can you top ‘Hamilton’? Author Ron Chernow is about to find out

The notable writer’s latest book, published Oct. 10, is a lengthy biography on Ulysses S. Grant.

Most Read