Opening: Playing for Keeps

There are two good things about this odd romantic comedy from Italian director Gabriele Muccino: Gerard Butler gets to speak in his native Scottish lilt; and it features a touching portrayal of the difficult relationship between a divorced dad (Butler) and his 9-year-old son (Noah Lomax), similar to the daddy-son duet in Muccino’s Pursuit of Happyness. The somewhat downbeat film has Butler playing George Dwyer, a former soccer star fallen on hard times. The nature of his downfall is not specified, only suggested by angry creditors’ calls and vague remonstrances from his ex-wife, Stacie (blank-faced Jessica Biel). George, who tools around in a scruffy Alfa Romeo, is broke but has hopes of becoming a sportscaster. He falls into a gig coaching his son’s soccer team and becomes the unwilling object of lust among a bevy of soccer moms who all happen to be model-beautiful (Hollywood’s fantasy of middle America). The women — Uma Thurman, Judy Greer, and a post-surgically unrecognizable Catherine Zeta-Jones — are predatory reptiles, in contrast to George’s idealized ex, whom he still loves even though she’s engaged to her bland new boyfriend. Muccino’s busy camera keeps things interestingly off-kilter, but Robbie Fox’s script leaves a lot of ends untied: a subplot involving a crazy, rich soccer dad (Dennis Quaid) goes nowhere, and George’s redemption is unmoving, because his problems are never dramatized. The movie does, however, mine genuine pathos from George’s attempts to bridge the emotional distance between him and his little boy.
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