PLAYING FOR KEEPS. Starring Gerard Butler, Jessica Biehl, Noah Lomax, Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, Dennis Quaid. Directed by Gabriele Muccini. Rated M (coarse language). 105 minutes.
The first moments, and the title, might lead us to believe that this is a film about soccer. There is soccer, but this is more of a story about family, and the relationship between a father and his young son.
Those early moments show the successful career of Scots player, George Dreyer. George is played by Gerard Butler (allowed to use his own accent). But, after his career ends, he faces the problems of what he is to do with his life. The media hype the celebrity of the footballers, their excessively high salaries, their relationships with women and their lavishly spending wives and girlfriends. What do former football stars do?
According to Playing for Keeps, they go back to find their children who are living with their ex-wife and her about-to-be next husband. Well, here, George goes to the US and to his American ex-wife, Stacie (Jessica Biehl in a very sympathetic performance) to get to know his son, Lewis (Noah Lomax, who played the son in Safe Haven). George seems to have lost most of his money and is doing an audition tape for a sportscasters's job.
When he goes to watch his son play soccer (with the coach usually talking on his mobile phone), we know where the film is going. And it does that: coaching his son, trying to get close to him despite some failures, forming some bonds before it is too late.
But, there are two surprises (well, perhaps not, middle class American suburbia being what it is). First, there is the bumptiously ambitious father who immediately offers cash so that his son can get a better position and his daughter sing the national anthem before matches. He is played by Dennis Quaid as a conniving, grinningly ruthless businessman, who is not above inviting George home to a party to impress his business associates. The other surprise (or not) is the response of the mothers to George. Some are desperate housewives who go after George. There is the 'poor little me' divorcee who weeps and comes on strongly (Judy Greer). There is the businessman's glamorous wife who turns out to be as manipulative as her husband (Uma Thurman). Most strongly of all is Catherine Zeta-Jones as a vampishneighbour who has the power and influence to help George become the sportscaster.
But, it is time for George to make adult decisions instead of the immature footballer reactions that he is used to.
Of course, he makes the right decisions ultimately, perhaps not quite in the way we were expecting. They depend on his bonding with his son and what that should mean as well as listening to the sensible advice of his ex-wife and, despite her happy memories before he walked out on her and their son, her explanation to him that his timing is always wrong and that he explodes.
The film is by Italian director, Gabriele Muccino, who made The Last Kiss in both Italian and English versions and who directed Will Smith in both The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out February 21 2013.