<em>Playing for Keeps</em>

Poor Gerard Butler, who’s fearing the bane of typecasting after the swaggering, semi-flesh machismo of his career-launching role in 300. He just wants to be loved. By both genders. Playing for Keeps is another romantic-comedy vehicle, coproduced by and starring the categorically handsome and reasonably talented Butler, aimed at presenting the softer, apologetic side to the man. Regrettably, though, the film he has attached himself to is the kind of silly swill that taints the actor by association.

On some level, Butler does have a kind of tousled, roguish charm as a soccer star on his way down, trying to bond with his son and win back his aggrieved ex-wife. He becomes a dutiful soccer dad and quickly magnetizes the carnal schemes of suburban soccer moms more interested in winning the coach’s love and lust than their children’s victories on the field. Alas, he’s a practiced lothario, willing to take the bait while presumably making a strong case for reconciliation with his ex-wife (Jessica Biel, in a nicely glowing turn): It’s the old double standard, in which a male character’s dalliances are excusable while similar actions made by a woman would easily tarnish her character.

Sentimental as all get-out, and weirdly mean to all characters outside of the central family unit, the film quickly descends to the level of a bad TV-movie melodrama. Dennis Quaid and Catherine Zeta-Jones show up, getting their oily villain licks in, while our man Butler is the soggy hero on the rebound, with the sad, hungry eyes and the hunky, action-ready form. By the happy ending, we’re primarily happy to be exiting the theater. Suffice it to say, Playing for Keeps is one of the year’s golden turkeys, minus the “golden” part.


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