Gerard Butler's filmography is a strange one. Action movies and thrillers like 300, Law Abiding Citizen, and Gamer sit oddly alongside romantic comedy such as P.S. I Love You, The Bounty Hunter, and The Ugly Truth. Personally, I think he is strong leading man, with a great presence, but I prefer him him when he firing off guns with abandon, or shouting the name of the place he's currently in. Which makes the fact that I really enjoyed Playing For Keeps, his latest journey down the romantic comedy route, all the more puzzling.
Butler plays George Dryer, a former professional football (soccer, for those of you in America) player who has fallen on hard times. Unemployed, trying to have a meaningful relationship with his son (Noah Lomax), and dealing with the fact that his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) is getting remarried, his life takes a turn for the better when he starts coaching his son's football (soccer) team. But he soon finds he has a long ways to go to get his life back on track.
While Playing For Keeps, from The Pursuit Of Happyness director Gabrielle Muccino won't blow open the romantic comedy genre, but it is an enjoyable enough watch, thanks to an incredibly likable lead performance from Butler. He imbues George with a cheeky sense of humour, even though a shroud of misogyny hangs over proceedings, as he makes his way through the neighbourhoods single moms. His scenes with Lomax are incredibly touching, but sadly the same can't be said for his screen time with Biel, as I didn't feel any chemistry at all between the two. The humour on a whole is nicely judged, especially the scene featuring a surprise early morning phone call from George's friend Carl (Dennis Quaid at his slimy, but woefully underused, best), but the movie is let down, due to a very predictable story, and characters who only exist to move the plot forward. Uma Thurman as Patti, Carl's wife, is a non-character, existing only to present some flimsy third act complications, and Catherine Zeta-Jones may as well have been called Plot Device. Besides Quaid, the only other supporting player to make an impression was the always wonderful Judy Greer (best known for her t.v. work in Arrested Development and Archer) as the emotionally unstable Barb. She has more to do than Thurman and Zeta-Jones combined, and bounces off Butler nicely.
Beat for beat, this is your typical rom-com, slightly elevated by very good performances from Butler and some of the supporting cast. It has it's moments, enough for an enjoyable night at the cinema.