Playing For Keeps review (DVD)

What is it with Butler and romcoms? His continued predilection for picking schmaltzy battle-of-the-sexes MOR pap implies that he doesn't understand that it was 300 - an oiled-up homoerotic uber-action comic book flick - that made him famous. Not Phantom Of The Opera. God knows not The Ugly Truth. And not this hopelessly cloying, execrable soccer "comedy" that he can only blame himself for, also being a producer. Here's hoping that any career resuscitation he gets from Olympus Has Fallen jogs his memory.

Back to the balls at hand.

Butler plays former “soccer” star George Dryer, a Scot who forged a career in the Premiership before injury brought it to an untimely end. Now fallen on hard times, he’s pitched up in the US, hoping to reunite with former love Jessica Biel and their son, and start a new career as a sportscaster. Trouble is, she’s engaged and he can’t even flog his old Liverpool strip, let alone jump onto a major TV network. Unable to keep his seat during his son’s junior soccer practice, George ends up coaching the team. And schooling the moms in less, um, sporting matters.

And that’s it, with the tone ping-ponging between broad farce and deep sentimentalism devoid of dramatic tension because there’s no way this film doesn’t reunite Butler and Biel, or give him the job he needs. It’s baffling why this project attracted so many great actors, all of whom essay a series of unctuous cads and sex-starved cougars – hardly roles worthy of Quaid, Thurman, Zeta-Jones and the always-excellent Greer. None of the characters go beyond caricatures, none of the comedy is funny and none of the emotions ring true. It’s basically a massive own goal for Butler and all involved. You end up wondering if Italian Pursuit Of Happyness director Muccino was made to direct this as penance for muddled Will Smith drama Seven Pounds. Certainly, there’s no trace of Happyness here.

And I for one found the constant use of the term soccer instead of football - as the bulk of the world knows it - incredibly irritating. Plus, the opening montage states that Dryer’s football career ended at the age of 36, which is older than most professional footballers manage, so this guy would have earned millions over that time. The film explains away his current breadline status as due to bad investments and the stricken economy, but anyone with a passing knowledge of football will know just how much money he has likely lost and that makes his character look like an incredible moron or the worst kind of callow cad. And nothing he does in the film is resonant enough to counter this perception. But would do you expect from the writer of Pauly Shore’s In The Army Now? Woeful.

EXTRAS ★★ Standard EPK fluff – an eight-minute making-of featurette and cast interviews, plus a smattering of deleted and extended scenes that are almost as redundant as the film. All the featurettes do is draw more attention to the “WTF?” of why it got made and why on earth the starry cast seemingly flocked to be in it.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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