A film that falls halfway between a romantic comedy and an emotional drama, it fails miserably at being either. Save for Gerard Butler’s accent, there is nothing about Playing For Keeps that is remotely memorable. This film is terribly disappointing, considering that it is directed by the director of The Pursuit of Happyness and because it has cast with stellar names that are completely wasted.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment about Playing For Keeps is the fact that it comes from Gabriele Muccino, the director of that little gem of a film, The Pursuit of Happyness. The former isn’t a patch on the latter, in spite of the fact that the two films seemingly have the same emotional core – a coming-of-age father-son story.
George Dryer is an erstwhile football star, now on hard days. He’s moved to Virginia to be closer to his little son, who lives with his mother; Dryer and she are divorced. Aspiring to be a sports anchor, he spends his time making audition tapes of himself, selling his old football memorabilia to raise cash. He eventually takes up a position as the coach of a school football team, where his son plays. Amidst attractive, needy soccer moms vying for his attention, Dryer sets about trying to ‘grow up’.
The film struggles to establish just what it is trying to be. Is it supposed to be purely an emotional story? If so, then there are too many subplots and attempts at comedy for it to make even a minor dent on the viewer’s heart. Is it supposed to be a comedy? If that is the case, then the film just isn’t funny, even though it tries hard to be.
The film does tilt more towards being emotional and touching, as it attempts to draw the viewer in to the journey that Dryer as a character undertakes. But it just falls flat on that count. Apart from the fact that the film is just written poorly - it has no graph in its narrative and treatment – I suspect also that it largely has to do with the cast of the film, or to be more precise, the manner in which they are used.
It’s strange that popular and acclaimed actors like Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the likes signed on for such thankless, pointless side characters. The characters aren’t strong enough to make the audience feel that they are companions or obstacles in Dryer’s personal journey, but yet are given enough screen time to test the audience’s patience. So much so that this 106-minute film seems far longer than it actually is.
Gerard Butler as George Dryer is admittedly appealing enough; his tousled locks and charming Scottish accent at least justify why so many women go weak in the knees around him. But even his character is as poorly written as the rest, because his behaviour in the company of these women flinging themselves at him is completely out of place. Jessica Biel as his wife churns out the best performance in the film, even though I must say she didn’t particularly have a tough role to play.
At various points in its runtime, the film seems more like a wasted opportunity than anything else. It has nothing to offer to the audience, save for a good-looking cast. It lacks soul; it has nothing to make the audience identify with the characters or even something to genuinely laugh at. Hard to recommend as even a DVD or TV watch, Playing For Keeps is a bland, silly film that doesn’t make a point.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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