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Playing for Keeps


‘…a flawed movie that’s still an agreeable enough watch for those who dig Butler’s brand of charm…’

Probably better described by the original title Playing The Field, this Gerry Butler vehicle from 2012 comes from a tricky period of the star’s development; born in Paisley, just outside of Glasgow, Butler trained as a lawyer rather than as an actor, although he did attend Scottish Youth Theatre. Butler somehow managed to meet, befriend and be remembered as a best buddy by pretty much the entire population of Scotland before heading to LA to take up the mantle as an above-the-title star. Butler was already getting big roles such as Dracula in Dracula 2000, but it was a fairly humble drama, Dear Frankie, that really showed off his leading man chops, while growing his skills as a producer, soon to start controlling his own franchises and making the big deals for himself that allowed him to construct his own bespoke starring roles.

2012’s lush flop Playing for Keeps was one route forward in terms of capturing Butler’s brand of machismo; he plays George Dryer, who an early montage depicts as a sporting powerhouse, with faked footage showing him playing for Celtic, Manchester United, Washington’s DC United and the Scottish national team. The glory days seem to be behind him, and when the story starts proper, Dryer is struggling with a broken marriage and a strained relationship with his son. George Dryer aspires to being a sports anchor on ESPN, rehearsing in his undercrackers, but gains more immediate traction by coaching his son’s soccer team. That gains the attention of his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) who is soon to be married, but can Dyer win the hearts of his team while fending off the advances of multiple attractive women who throw themselves at him, namely soccer mom Judy Greer, agent Catherine Zeta-Jones and the wife (Uma Thurman) of his corrupt, boozy boss (Dennis Quaid)?

Butler has since phased out rom-coms in favour of crowd-pleasing bloody action, and with some success; even Playing for Keeps is a more route one than even a dedicated football fan might expect. Brand names are flaunted without shame, including the football teams named, and ESPN, but even high-end sports car-makers get a punt when Dyer drives and is satisfied by a spanking new spaceship of a bright red Ferrari. Robbie Fox’s script seems intent of showing how Dyer finds maturity by rejecting female attention in favour of resurrecting his family; it’s not particularly a particularly persuasive goal, but at least Gabrielle Muscino’s film seems to have its heart in the right place, even if the grasp of Gerry’s mother tongue is lax. The word w*****r, used on several occasions here, is seen as a proper swear word in the UK, not one to be used freely in front of impressionable kids as it is here.

Playing for Keeps was resting on an underwater 4 per cent positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing, and that’s hardly fair; this isn’t an aggressively bad movie mistake like say The Ugly Truth, but just a soppy, easy to consume confection that feels a lot like wish fulfilment for Butler, who gets to drive posho cars, date beautiful women, play football and be a good dad as well as an envied media performer. While nobody’s idea of a masterpiece, it’s a low-key, amiable film that loses focus on what it wants to be; popping up on streaming, it’s a flawed movie that’s still an agreeable enough watch for those who dig Butler’s brand of charm. Loin-cloth action in 300 provided the hit that would propel Butler into a dozen tough-guy action movies, taking the mantle from Liam Neeson, but he’s a happy centre for comedy or drama if he can get his mitts on the right script.


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    • Pretty much everyone in Scotland has a story about Gerry. But no, he didn’t qualify for the annual Critics vs Comedians football match. Did interview him, but never kicked a ball around…

    • Really? I sat behind her at the BAFTAS in 2002 and my big memory is that you were not allowed to eat and drink during the speeches. So every time they played a clip from any of the movies, you couldn’t hear it for crunching as everyone was cramming as many Cadbury’s Boasters into their mouths as possible.

      • Then I’m afraid I’m going to have to say that your priorities were totally screwed up then. And that you even remember it means it was particularly egregious which means your priorities are STILL totally screwed up.
        I know a Good shrink who could help you with that….

        • Thanks for setting me right; I went to look for pics, and found it’s a McVities’ Boaster, not Cadbury’s. Very nice biscuit, made a big impression on me at the time, still talking about it.

          • Oh my goodness, the situation is worse than I ever imagined.


            Don’t you worry, the orderlies will have you feeling better in no time. And after you wake up, you’ll feel completely normal…

                    • A good biscuit is a lifelong memory, CZJ can’t hope to compete…

                    • If my taekommentdo skills weren’t as sharp as they are, that statement would have left me speechless.
                      But thankfully, I am never without words to reply.

                    • I don’t argue with CZJ apathy’izers. They obviously already have enough problems without me crushing the flickering flame of life that they have left…

                    • Now if I was sitting behind Chevy Chase, that would be different. I wouldn’t be focused on biscuits, but on showing my appreciation of a comic genius.

                    • Now I am speechless….
                      ….with rage and unbounded fury. Show me the Chevster and I’ll show you a dead man. I’ll moidah him, wid my bear hands!

                    • 1 Chevy Chase
                      2 biscuits
                      3 CZJ

                      There. You can cut this out and glue it onto the inside of your eyelids. It’ll keep your priorities right moving forward.

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