If you absolutely need a date movie or you just have an undying love for romantic comedies, “Playing For Keeps” is exactly what you need (and just in time for Hanukkah!). For anyone missing “SportsCenter” to see this movie, there’s the added bonus of an on-set Stan Verrett cameo (But don’t be afraid, American sports fans: ESPN’s expansion of soccer coverage is completely fictional).

Playing for Keeps

At Quality 16 and Rave

“Playing” has a solid cast infused with plenty of Hollywood beauty, but it’s just another in a never-ending string of products from the industry’s assembly line for love stories.

George (Gerard Butler, “300”) and Stacie (Jessica Biel, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”) were the loves of each others’ lives, but his past immaturity and unfaithfulness drove them apart. A retired soccer superstar fallen on hard economic times, George has moved to be closer to her and their son, who desperately wants to have fun with his dad.

When a movie like this is done well enough to stand out, the connection the audience feels to the relationships on screen makes it appealing. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of those stand-outs. “Playing for Keeps” has too much going on to allow for any one intimacy to develop into more than a cliché.

Butler is somewhat charming (and shit, accents are sexy), but he isn’t quite able to capture the heart of the audience (a little “300”-style shirt-popping could have helped here). Biel is convincing enough as a concerned mother, but her character has little more depth than being George’s “one that got away.” Dennis Quaid (“Parent Trap”) and Uma Thurman (“Kill Bill”) are the best of the supporting cast, turning in charismatic performances as a philandering and wealthy couple that takes a special interest in George. And only Dennis Quaid can turn a group of soccer moms and dads into a crowd hyped for fútbol sharpshooting.

What makes “Playing For Keeps” an underwhelming film is lazy screenwriting. For example, George, the coach of his son’s soccer team, is running along the sidelines engaged in the game and he’s suddenly interrupted by a phone call from a player’s mom. Of course, he answers his phone, missing his son’s first career goal. The idea that any phone call must be answered serves well in creating awkward, problematic and sometimes humorous situations on screen. However, it also takes away from the film’s realism, adding drama to the story where there would have been none in real life. The film’s few attempts at one-liner comedy are gigglesome, not hilarious.

That being said, “Playing For Keeps” is exactly what viewers should expect it to be — cute. Yes, you’ve seen this movie before. Yes, you know how it ends. But let’s be honest, that’s why you would want to see this movie in the first place. Because just like a kayak on Christmas morning, you know what you’re getting before you unwrap it.

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