x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Football film strictly by the numbers

Score Bore: Playing For Keeps fails to excite, either on or off the pitch.

Gerard Butler in Playing for Keeps. Eagle Films
Gerard Butler in Playing for Keeps. Eagle Films

Playing For Keeps

Director: Gabriele Muccino

Starring: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta-Jones

**

The normally hard-hitting star Gerard Butler continues his second career as a romcom leading man in the football-themed Playing For Keeps. He plays George Dryer, a fallen sporting idol given a second chance at personal redemption and reconciliation with his estranged wife (Jessica Biel) through the offer of a post coaching his son's football team.

A conveyor belt of the worst of Hollywood clichés, the story is fraught with trite sentiment and characters who, despite the energy of the people playing them, never quite win you over. The studio system has trotted out a thousand stories like this (sleazy guy finds what makes him happy just in time to save himself), but the many that have gone before have, for the most part, done it far better.

Butler is a cauldron of bravado that at times directly goes against his character's path to change due to his sheer obnoxious nature, and a cast of larger-than-life support (Dennis Quaid, Zeta-Jones) only reinforces that we are watching romantic comedy at its most glossy and irrelevant. Although he clashes well with his on-screen ex Biel (more than a match for him with a feisty performance), the comedy-by-numbers script prevents it from ever becoming interesting.

In short, we follow George from his lowest ebb to possible resurgence, but thanks to a lifeless story and half-hearted performances, by the third act you won't care how he fares. For fans of football, or just good cinema, Playing For Keeps proves to be a celluloid own goal.

Sporting role a dream come true for Butler

Gerard Butler tugs on the heart strings in Playing For Keeps, but the role of a retired football player also allowed Butler to live out a boyhood dream.

The film opens with digitally created footage of Butler, in character as George Dryer, playing for the teams Celtic and Liverpool, and the real-life Celtic fan had no trouble believing the fantasy. "It was surprising how quickly I got into the whole thing," he recalls, "even though it was just me acting like a footballer, it's been a dream of mine for so long that it was easy to watch the [finished] footage and think 'that's when I played for Liverpool'."

He's played in numerous celebrity and charity games, although a lot of training was required to look the part on screen. "It was the best homework ever," he laughs. "Whenever I had a spare moment, I'd be kicking a ball around." But would the Scotsman ever swap his movie fame for the life of a professional sportsman? "That's the advantage of being an actor, you can live out these dreams for a little while - you don't have to choose!"