An entire romantic comedy could (and should, some day soon) be structured around Gerard Butler’s hair, which is absurdly thick and manfully curly and looks subtly highlighted, as if by a finger from heaven. (It could be rivals with, say, Hugh Grant in his floppy-bangs period; a great era for male movie hair.) In the meantime, we have “Playing for Keeps,” a formulaic romantic comedy that doesn’t seem to understand the legendary hair it’s working with; the movie keeps insisting on sticking to a plot that involves children and responsibility and being a better man. You may well have forgotten the plot by the next day — I seem to be doing just that — but the hair stays with you. “Playing for Keeps” isn’t quite playing to its strengths.
Butler and his hair play George Dryer, a former international soccer star who’s now broke and desperate for a job.
He’s drifted back to the Virginia suburb where his ex-wife, Stacie (Jessica Biel; hair strangely flat), lives with their son, Lewis (Noah Lomax; hair kid-appropriate), and her nice boyfriend (James Tupper; hair nondescript, as we’re not supposed to notice this guy). George would like to patch things up with Stacie and reconnect with his son, so he agrees to coach Lewis’ kid soccer team. This comes complete with nicely tressed soccer moms, all of whom zoom in on George: sultry Denise (Catherine Zeta-Jones; raven hair in fine form), ditsy Barb (Judy Greer; long red mane), dangerously flirtatious Patti (Uma Thurman; all blond tendrils). If you’re not sure who George will end up with, you haven’t seen very many rom-coms.
Directed by Gabriele Muccino (“The Pursuit of Happyness”), whose hair is unreported, “Playing for Keeps” plods along pretty much as you’d expect. Its small pleasures come from the relaxed cast. Greer, who lights up any movie, makes the act of bursting into tears endearingly funny. Zeta-Jones saunters elegantly through the film with her oddly retro allure; she always seems a bit misplaced in the present, as if she was born for ’40s-style glamour. (Can you think of any other contemporary actress who you can easily picture with a cigarette holder?) Biel, stuck with an underwritten role, radiates normalcy and kindness. The handsome Butler gives it his all, causing audible sighs in a preview audience during a shirtless scene, earnestly delivering his lines and adorably addressing the kid as “chap.” Someday, he’ll star in a great romantic comedy, when he finds the right script — but his hair’s already there.
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Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org