Direct foul

“Do you like movies about gladiators?”

“Do you like movies about gladiators?”

Rated 1.0

In assessing Playing for Keeps, I noticed something about the title. The first word contains the letters P-A-I-N.

Oh, I felt pain watching this. I felt a distinctive pain in my face as it protested the admittance of this shit into my eyes and ears. I’m on precarious terms with my own face at this time. It may never trust me again after putting it through such an atrocity.

Gerard Butler is a very likeable actor who can’t find a good script to save his life. This one has him as an ex-pro soccer player looking to make amends with his wife (Jessica Biel) while trying to break into the world of sports broadcasting. He winds up coaching his kid’s soccer team while selfishly pursuing his engaged wife.

Meanwhile, a bevy of soccer moms try to bed him. We’re talking high art here.

The soccer moms are played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, both former A-list actresses, and the usually reliable Judy Greer. All three wonderful actresses are reduced to stereotypes. Their roles are nothing short of degrading.

Zeta-Jones plays the “I will help your career if you do me” soccer mom, Thurman plays the “My husband is cheating on me, so please do me” soccer mom, and Greer plays the “I’m all alone and crazy … there are venomous snakes in my purse that recite poetry about bugs and the voices say I will choke you … so please, just do me” soccer mom.

As this thing played out, I wondered how all of this talent got attached to such wretched cinematic excrement. I saw that Butler was a producer in the credits. Maybe he used his distinct, snarly Scottish charm to seduce them into something beneath their station. Or maybe they got paid a shit-pile of money. We are talking “swimming pool in the living room next to the golden cow” money.

I’m going to assume that a shit-pile of money was used to lure Dennis Quaid into this thing. Then again, who knows? It’s Hollywood. Anything can happen. Seduction by Butler is not out of the question.

Gabriele Muccino, who made the reasonably good The Pursuit of Happyness but then farted in cinemagoers’ faces with Seven Pounds directs the movie. With Seven Pounds equated to a fart, I can tell you that Playing for Keeps is much worse. I won’t type what it can be equated to, but you don’t want it in your face, unless you are very strange.

One of the few good things about the film is that Butler is allowed to keep his real accent, rather than doing one of his piss poor American accents. Granted, it’s difficult to understand him at times, and there’s no way ESPN would ever hire him to do sports announcing unless they want their viewers squinting and saying, “What?” a lot. Still, being that Butler usually sounds like a B-movie gangster when he tries to sound American, his real accent is an improvement.

Of all the stars here, Thurman fares the worst as a crazily jealous wife looking to get revenge sex on her hubby (Quaid). As I watched her embarrass herself mightily, the phrase “She was in Kill Bill!” kept repeating in my head. Greer has a couple of cringe-worthy scenes where she throws herself at Butler and cries, while Zeta-Jones simply delivers bad material with a certain amount of grace.

Butler and Biel are actually OK, and this movie would’ve been much better had it just been about them and their little soccer playing brat. Their story arc eventually goes to that ridiculous place where most crap romances go, but had they actually had a decent script to go with their decent screen chemistry, this might’ve stayed off my year’s worst list.

As it stands, Playing for Keeps will be on my year’s worst list with bells on, and so be it. It seems that every year somebody sneaks a junk movie like this into the awards season. This one gets an award all right: Biggest Waste of Talent and Time.