TRUCKEE - At 43, Gerard Butler has an established action-hero career, yet he has elected to produce and star in this mediocre romantic comedy.
He plays George, a washed-up soccer pro hoping to win back his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel) and their young son Lewis (Noah Lomax). Unemployed and hounded by debt collectors, George seemingly has nothing to lose when he agrees to coach his son's soccer team as a means of re-establishing his bond with Lewis.
He quickly becomes the team's idol, but his life is made problematic by kids' parents attracted to George's famous name, his rock-hard abs and his Scottish brogue. Three gorgeous, love-starved moms (Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer) demand George's attention. Equally dangerous, a wealthy soccer dad (Dennis Quaid) doles out cash and special favors in exchange for preferential treatment.
Butler's effort to transform George from a charming cad into a thoughtful adult is a monumental assignment for any actor, but it's especially daunting for one best suited to stoic machismo.
Young Noah Lomax is credible as George's son - desperate to believe in his dad, but needing more than the same old excuses for George's tardiness and neglect.
Butler and Lomax crackle with a father-son chemistry that elevates their scenes beyond those focused on Butler and his adult costars, most of whom are little more than caricatures. Biel is the exception. She's persuasive as the ex-wife who hasn't forgotten what's best and worst about her ex, but her connection to George comes across as forced.
More of a feel-good family drama than romantic comedy, "Playing For Keeps" is the sort of movie trotted out for the holidays by the Lifetime Network - except with bigger stars.
The film's shopworn script is a scrapbook of films featuring men failing to leave adolescence behind, and subsequently finding themselves alone and unhappy.
The film's modest $35 million dollar budget suddenly looks pricey in the wake of its $6 million dollar opening weekend. Perhaps Butler should take a grown-up look at what does and doesn't suit his on-screen persona.