‘Playing For Keeps’


Gerard Butler, most famed for his muscled marauder performance in “300,” always seems on the verge of burning rage or spontaneous combustion — which is why he was a disaster in rom-coms such as “The Bounty Hunter” and “The Ugly Truth.” For all his handsome-guy demeanor, he just doesn’t seem nice to be around; personally, I have to suppress an urge to hand him some pills to bring down his blood pressure whenever I see him on-screen. His latest Japan release, “Playing For Keeps,” puts that rabid-dog side of his personality to somewhat good use.

Butler plays former soccer star George, who’s now out of the game and out of favor with the credit card companies. His personal life is a wreck too: Ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel) is about to tie the knot again, and he struggles to reconnect with 9-year-old son Lewis (Noah Lomax).

Playing For Keeps (Smile, Again)

Director Gabriele Muccino draws out Butler’s exciting, broad Scottish brogue, which does some sparring with the clipped accent of Welsh beauty Catherine Zeta-Jones (cast as soccer mom Denise), but the pleasantness stops when she and other hottie moms start hurling themselves at George as soon as he steps up to coach the local kids’ soccer club. Uma Thurman and Judy Greer are among the casualties. Is the rumpled, hairy-faced George so appealing? It’s a mystery, this.