Playing for Keeps

December 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Dennis Quaid
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino (“The Pursuit of Happyness,” “Seven Pounds”)
Written by: Robbie Fox (“So I Married an Axe Murderer”)

When all of the tepid romantic comedy crap bobbing along aimlessly on the surface of “Playing For Keeps” finally boils away, the movie is left asking one question: are you, the viewer, okay with an innocent man being screwed over and heartbroken for the sake of the film’s hero? Are you fine with a decent guy having his entire life upended for no reason other than the fact he happened to fall in love and enter into a mutually committed relationship with a woman (and her young child he appears to love and care for) who happens to have an ex that the rom-com gods have determined is worthy of inexplicably winning her back? Is awful human behavior like this actually romantic to you?

“Playing For Keeps” stars Gerard Butler as George Dryer, a retired international soccer star who has fallen on hard times both personally and financially. George moves to Virginia in order to be closer to his young son Lewis (Noah Lomax) and his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel), hoping to be a better father and rekindle the relationship he ruined years ago by actions unclear.

As luck would have it, Lewis is on a pee-wee soccer team in need of a real coach, a job George is perfectly suited for. Along the way George attracts the attention of a bevy of eager soccer moms (including Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Uma Thurman) who want to get into his Scottish knickers and a lecherous loudmouth soccer dad (Dennis Quaid, amazingly both hamming it up and phoning it in at the same time) who wants…well, someone to loan his Ferrari to, I guess? That relationship is hard to figure out. And all the while Stacie and her fiancé (James Tupper) express disappointment in George’s parenting at every opportunity.

Director Gabriele Muccino (“The Pursuit of Happyness”) turns in a real hack-job, filled with choppy editing, abandoned plot points, and cringe-worthy performances. While Butler and Biel end up acquitting themselves with passably inert takes on boring characters, the supporting players fare much, much worse. Greer, Zeta-Jones, and Thurman all play horrible cartoons instead of real women, throwing themselves sexually at a puzzlingly chaste Butler during scenes where the music is working overtime to tell us all of it is supposed to be funny. None of them come close to the awfulness of Quaid, though, who seriously looks to be reading cue cards over Butler’s shoulder in some scenes.

And that brings us back to where this review started: in order for the film to end as telegraphed from the first frame, with Butler and Biel reuniting, an unsuspecting man (Tupper’s Matt, weeks out from his wedding!) will have to have his life shattered. Sure, stories of true love being rekindled after time apart have been around for centuries, but littering the story with characters subject to collateral damage caused by our heroes with absolutely no consequence is irresponsible bullshit masquerading as romance.

Seven Pounds

December 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino (“The Pursuit of Happyness”)
Written by: Grant Nieporte (debut)

In “Seven Pounds,” debut screenwriter Grant Nieporte and “Pursuit of Happyness” director Gabriele Muccino keep the audience in the dark for so long, there’s no way to find middle ground between the lagging story and its foregone conclusion.

Will Smith plays Ben Thomas, an emotionally distraught IRS agent who killed seven people, including his wife, in an automobile accident, and vows to make amends for the pain he has caused. His plan: Ben will commit suicide, but not before finding seven people and “drastically changing their circumstances” by giving them something they need.

For example, when he meets Ezra Turner, a blind meat salesman, Ben decides after his death, he will donate his eyes to him. For a kid with leukemia he sees at the hospital, Ben donates bone marrow. A love interest presents herself to Ben in the form of Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), who is in dire need of a heart transplant (cue Ben’s giving nature).

It’s fairly obvious where Muccino wants to take this and has no shame in being so blatant about it. Smith is a talented actor, but in “Seven Pounds” he lays it on thick and the performance ends up too schmaltzy for its own good. Scenes of Ben thinking while staring out into the ocean, thinking while showering, thinking in the rain, thinking in the grass, are contrived. Smith is trying way too hard for an Oscar here and it shows. Any real emotion should have come from the relationships Ben creates (even from afar) with the people he plans on helping. But there’s really only time for Dawson’s character and everyone else ultimately ends up on the backburner.

Instead of “Seven Pounds,” a reference to William Shakespeare’s “A Merchant of Venice,” Nieporte and Muccino should have aimed for a couple of ounces and not spread themselves so thin. But reach they do and try giving us something profound to think about.  It’s not so much thoughtful as it is apparent and improbable.