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FILM REVIEW: Playing For Keeps (12A)

Poor Gerard Butler’s not had a great time at the box office of late.

Machine Gun Preacher and Chasing Mavericks weren’t complete stinkers, unlike The Bounty Hunter, but they didn’t set the world alight either.

And unfortunately this latest offering isn’t likely too either.

Billed as a ‘feel-good romp’, Butler retains his native accent to play former Scottish football star George Dryer.

George has fallen on hard times. In an attempt to get his life back in order, he rolls up in suburban Virginia to try to ‘reconnect’ with his estranged nine-year-old son Lewis (Noah Lomax) and ex Stacie (Jessica Biel).

It’s not long before he’s enlisted to coach the local little league football team, but any attempt to finally ‘grow up’ is thwarted by the hive of attractive and sexually frustrated “soccer moms” and a pushy, back-slapping soccer dad (Dennis Quaid) who pursue George for their own ends.

As Butler, who also acted as a producer on the film, has admitted, Playing For Keeps is “not reinventing the wheel”, but this comedy falls far short of its potential.

It’s directed by Gabriele Muccino, who helmed the 2006 hit The Pursuit Of Happyness, which starred Will Smith and his real-life son Jaden.

But where that film focused on father-son bonding, this movie feels awkwardly disjointed.

Perhaps the script is to blame. Bar a couple of strong one-liners, it lacks any originality or wit.

There are wonderfully touching moments between Butler, who’s winningly charming, and his cute son, played by newcomer Lomax.

But just when you’re feeling moved, along totters a panting and scantily clad Uma Thurman as trophy housewife Patti, and suddenly the tone shifts into a sexual farce.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is less cringe-some as femme fatale Denise, who helps George get an ESPN sports-caster gig, but only after she has had her wicked way with him.

And Judy Greer puts in a sweet performance as neurotic and newly single mum Barb.

But George’s true love, and the one he let slip away, is Stacie, who’s all set to marry her long-term boyfriend (James Tupper).

Will George be able to persuade her that he’s really a reformed man?

The blatant and longing looks should signpost the answer...

Given the cast and director, Playing For Keeps warrants being a whole lot better but it also doesn’t deserve the critical mauling it has received from some quarters.

Frothy, fun and farcical, think of it as an antidote to heavy Christmas indulgence.

:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: NO VIOLENCE :: RATING: 4.5/10

Released: January 1 (UK & Ireland), 106 mins

 

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