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Playing For Keeps' deserves a red card

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Rehashed rom-com has little to offer

While the genre is largely disparaged with labels like 'chick flick,' there's no disputing that romantic comedy can make for an enjoyable moviegoing experience. When a rom-com is well made, it manages to strike a balance between romance and comedy, providing love and laughs in equal measure.

And when it isn't well made? It manages to become 'Playing For Keeps.'

George Dryer (Gerard Butler, 'Chasing Mavericks') is a down-on-his-luck former soccer star. His legendary career was cut short by an ankle injury several years ago. In the present day, he has moved to suburban Virginia in an effort to rebuild a relationship with his son Lewis (Noah Lomax, TV's 'The Walking Dead'). His existence is a sad one he's trying to land a sportscasting job and living in a rented guest house while ducking various creditors.

At the behest of his son's mother Stacie (Jessica Biel, 'Total Recall'), George finds himself drafted as the new coach of Lewis's youth soccer team. He also finds himself as an object of attention (and affection) for the assorted soccer moms including Denise (Catherine Zeta-Jones, 'Rock of Ages'), a former sportscaster in her own right who might be able to get George an in at ESPN. You've also got married couple Carl (Dennis Quaid, 'The Words') and Patti (Uma Thurman, 'Bel Ami') he's a big-talking business man, she's a bored housewife.

George is soon torn between wanting to find personal success and trying to maintain his relationship with his son not to mention dealing with Stacie's imminent marriage to her boyfriend.

'Playing For Keeps' is little more than a warmed-over blending of every insipid rom-com trope there is. There's next to no character development there's little reason to care about any of these people. The tone of the film flip-flops throughout sometimes, it's your standard romance; other times, it's an overwrought family drama.

The only reason you can tell that Butler isn't totally phoning it in is that just about everyone else on screen clearly is. He's kinda sorta invested, but too often, he relies heavily on his looks, charm and accent to carry him. Biel gives the exact sort of vanilla-blah performance we've come to expect from her. Even when she's expressing 'feelings,' she's oatmeal flavorless and bland.

Zeta-Jones seems like she once read about the term 'cougar' and is trying to replicate it. Thurman is shill and one-note as the disaffected housewife I was actually kind of shocked to see her in this sort of uninteresting story. And Quaid is I honestly don't know. He's trying to portray Type-A, I suppose; he succeeds only seeming twitchy, sweaty and utterly unlikeable.

There are a few easy laughs to be had, but for the most part, the main characters come off as one-dimensional and unsympathetic a deadly combination. None of the choices that people make are informed by anything resembling reality. Gabriele Muccino's direction is flat and uninspired; it's dragged down further by Robbie Fox's screenplay. Of course, Fox is best known for his story work on the unforgettable 1994 Pauly Shore/Andy Dick vehicle 'In the Army Now,' so we shouldn't be too surprised.

Bland direction, clich-ridden story and disinterested performances 'Playing For Keeps' is a perfect storm of rom-com mediocrity that fully deserves to be as quickly forgotten as it most assuredly will be.

1 out of 5

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