3/5 stars

Romantic comedies are not only notoriously disposal and identical to one another, but they’re short, fluffy and require a necessary understanding that they in no way resemble reality.

The newest rom-com on the circuit, Playing for Keeps, does not depart from this standard. There are no surprises: deadbeat dad comes back to ex-wife and son to make amends, begins to bond more with his family, screws up, later proves his dedication and (spoiler alert) the entire family has a happy ending. It’s almost exactly what you would expect based on the trailer. That all being said, however, I found myself enjoying the movie. Granted, I am a sucker for any sort of feel-good movie, so I admit that I do not have the most critical eye when it comes to romantic comedies.

Keeps stars Gerard Butler, looking studly and causing swoons with his Scottish accent, as George Dwyer, a recently retired international soccer star whose ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel) ropes him into coaching his son Lewis’ soccer team. George agrees in his delayed decision to finally grow up, even if he’s not yet willing to relinquish his womanizing ways. The supporting cast features a number of big stars for an everyday movie; Dennis Quaid is the rich and manipulative father of one of the kids on the team, and Uma Thurman makes an appearance as his wife, who makes advances towards George throughout the movie.

Soccer moms throwing themselves at George become a trend throughout the movie: Catherine Zeta-Jones uses both her connections at ESPN and George’s hopes for a sports casting position to seduce him, and Judy Greer, playing a recent divorcee with mercurial moods, also seeks George’s attention. Seeing these different women going after George makes for a few funny moments, and you can tell the actors are having fun with some of the more ridiculous scenes.

The biggest problem I had with the movie is that it tried to do too much in terms of audience emotions; half of it functioned as a comedy and the other as a family drama. George goes back and forth between seducing these soccer moms and interacting with his family. The movie would have better served itself by picking one genre and sticking to it, and as it happened, I preferred the latter. Butler, Biel and Noah Lomax (who plays Lewis) give surprisingly believable performances that display the complexity of divorced families and George’s reconciliation efforts. Lewis is just about the cutest little boy ever, and his scenes with Butler show a depth beyond his young age. The relationship between father and son is the one that develops continually throughout the movie and is the one audiences will care about most.

Jessica Biel also gives a strong performance but is limited by her role as Lewis’ concerned mother. Her scenes with Butler show great conflict and unresolved emotion between the two of them, but it’s a relationship that doesn’t receive enough screen time. It would have been more interesting to delve into the relationship between Lewis’ parents and their subsequent divorce to understand and connect with them more as a couple.

Somewhere between wooing women and getting to know his son, George vies for a sportscasting job at ESPN. His struggle for the normal and stable 9-to-5 job gives a look into George’s need to redefine himself after retiring from soccer and falling out of the public eye. This soul-searching conflicts with his parenting duties and eventually leads to George being forced to decide on what is his true priority.

I would recommend this movie as long as you know what you’re getting into. There are a few good laughs, and Gerard Butler is certainly not bad to look at for 90 minutes. All in all, it’s a cute movie, but with steep theater ticket prices, it’s one best saved for a Redbox trip once it’s out on DVD.

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