Watching this all-too-predictable romantic comedy/drama, my overwhelming thought was this: Given all the great filmmakers and film projects that can’t find funding, how did this effort secure its reported $35 million for production? Some of those funds helped pay for impressive and expensive cast members, who are almost entirely wasted. Playing for Keeps is a truly lightweight tale about George (Gerard Butler), a former soccer star who moves to Virginia to be near his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel) and son Lewis (Noah Lomax), whom he has long neglected. Stacie is engaged to be married to the man with whom she is living, which doesn’t seem to bother George all that much at first.
For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, George is completely broke, but is hoping to restore and reinvent himself as a sportscaster. Coincidentally, yet crucially, he becomes the coach of his son’s soccer team. Lacking even a montage of skill improvements, the team quickly becomes a winning force simply because it has now come under his guidance. Instead, what we see in much more detail than practices or games are soccer moms developing a strong interest in George. Actually, it is not limited to moms, since Dennis Quaid plays soccer dad Carl, who pursues George with such aggressive exaggeration that one expects their relationship to be far further developed than it is. Uma Thurman as Carl’s wife Patti is a flat and stereotypical character neglected by her philandering husband. The moms regard George as a catch and, it turns out, not an unwilling one, even if at first somewhat reluctant. He is evidently irresistible, and even Patti eventually makes a play for him. This provides for some amusing situations, though in a TV sitcom sort of way.
As things progress, George comes to realize how important family is to him, and the enormity of what he’s lost really sinks in, thus leading him to become more interested in renewing things with his ex, even though he continues to fool around with the moms. One mom helps further his ambitions in sports broadcasting, yet this endeavor causes him to neglect, and then alienate, his son. But soon George is back in the good graces of his family. Even when he shows only a modicum of restraint as a philanderer, the film treats him as redeemed.
As mentioned above, the story is surprisingly – almost painfully – hackneyed, with the fine cast giving consistently one-dimensional turns. It is perplexing as to how such an unambitious, paint-by-numbers work got made. Actually, it is not even a current paint-by-numbers effort, because most contemporary romances involving once-connected-now-separated couples are a bit more sophisticated and worldly.