There was some local interest among my friends regarding the film Playing for Keeps. This was primarily because of the occupation of the male lead. However, one of the things I have learned through the years is because someone may be doing something that you may like, that does not mean that they are going to be faithful to said occupation. But in this film's case, the fact that the film is simply horrid does not help it in any case whatsoever.
The film is written by Robbie Fox, his first story or screenplay credit since the 1994 Pauly Shore vehicle In the Army Now, and it is directed by Gabriel Muccino (Seven Pounds). Gerard Butler (Law Abiding Citizen) plays George, a former soccer star in Europe who eventually finished his career in Washington, D.C., but in recent years is struggling. He supports a son that he had with Stacie (Jessica Biel, Total Recall), but is barely keeping his head above water in his post-soccer career. He decides to start coaching his son's soccer team, and he meets a web of various parents of kids on said team, including Denise (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rock of Ages), an ex-sportscaster who can help George realize a life where he is a soccer analyst on TV, Patti (Uma Thurman, Kill Bill), the flirtatious ex-wife of Carl (Dennis Quaid, Soul Surfer), a bit of a gambler. Barb (Judy Greer, Jeff, Who Lives At Home) is also trying to find her way in a post-divorce, single mom environment, but compared to the other women on screen, her arc is topical and forgettable. Don't blame me, blame the people who put her on the front of the Blu-ray cover without mentioning her name. Stacie is engaged to another man at this point, and George tries to help the soccer team and perhaps get in her good graces once again.
I am not entirely sure where to begin when it comes to Playing For Keeps, so I will start with the selfish. As a Major League Soccer (MLS) fan, while it is nice to see a recognizable face pimping out the League albeit in a small fashion, how about we try to do things like keeping names of players consistent for when they played, to say nothing of the uniforms? I realize that MLS got a nice stroll of promotion for the film and Butler got his picture taken with David Beckham as a result, but how about putting a little bit of thought and consideration into the details?
Sadly, they do not, and this lack of consideration permeates through the film. The characters are not written well and are handed the usual rom-com mechanisms in some areas, and are wasted in others. The idea of casting Thurman and Zeta-Jones in what amount to minor roles in this movie, designed to wear sheer blouses so you can see bras and maybe boobies! And speaking of a minor wasted role, Quaid's best moment in the movie is in the trailer, the rest of what little work he does may be fun, but is just a distraction. Perhaps to oddly compensate for these actors, Biel spends most of the movie with her hair in a ponytail and in a minimal amount of makeup, and there is a thin veil of misery in her face as she interacts with Butler and her fellow cast.
Speaking of misery and lack of thought and consideration, this gets us to Butler. Look, the guy has nice abdominal muscles, we get it, in several shots in fact. But Absy McAberson does not contribute anything memorable or of value in this movie that runs 15 minutes too long and seems to have aspirations of wanting to be a Blake Edwards movie with one guy and a bevy of beautiful women. Except it forgot a decent protagonist. And the story. And the jokes. And the romance.
There may be an easy soccer metaphor to employ when evaluating Playing For Keeps, something about a red card maybe, but to do so would be to employ more thought and effort than the movie sought to give the viewer to begin with. For a movie that appears to have been completed in 2011 and released in late 2012, I really should not expect anything less than what this film gives, because this film gives little to begin with.
The AVC-encoded 2.40:1 widescreen look afforded to Playing For Keeps is generally fine without distractions. The Louisiana countryside masked as Virginia exteriors for the film looks good and possesses good detail in the foreground and background, and the computer rendering of Butler's face on limber soccer players through the years is easily discernible. Colors are reproduced accurately without saturation problems, and flesh tones appear as natural as possible, even if the facial detail lacks. The source material is as new and pristine as you would expect, and Sony gives it a decent presentation.
DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless surround rules the day here, and it is fine considering. The sound of foot meeting soccer ball sounds clean and comes close to bringing a little bit of low-end fidelity to the table. Crowd and ambient noise can be picked up on the rear channels and panning is present and effective, though not entirely consistent during the film. Dialogue is well-centered in the front of the soundstage and the soundtrack does not require much, if anything in the way of user compensation. Sounds about as good as it looks.
The disc starts with 7 deleted scenes (10:17). It includes a little more friction between George and Stacie (welcome conflict at that), and fleshes out the characters a little more than what the film did. "The Playbook" (8:24) is your typical making-of look at the film with topical thoughts and summations on the story by the cast and crew, and thoughts on said cast and crew from the producers, and working with the kids to become soccer players. "Creating an All-Star Team" (6:34) examines the work on getting all these names together on one set, and the thoughts on this cast by other actors (and their parts in the film) and crew members. There is an Ultraviolet code available to stream/download the movie, in case you are a prison guard who likes to torture.
Playing For Keeps expects that you will be stirred by Butler's looks, struck by the beauty of Biel and the supporting actresses, and charmed by the story. The problem is you kind find those things elsewhere, in much better and entertaining movies. Technically the disc is fine, though from a bonus material perspective it is as pointless as the film itself. Not a good romcom, not enough justice to MLS, not enough good anywhere here.