Playing for Keeps (Grade: C-)
Gerard Butler is still waiting for his New York Times think piece. A perpetually B-list beefcake with A-list abs, he has never risen to glory like Eric Bana or Channing Tatum. Even with blockbusters like 300 (2006) and cult favourites like Gamer (2009), the Scottish heartthrob has never cracked that combination which unleashes the floodgates of widespread adoration. And Playing for Keeps certainly won’t be the code breaker. Though starting off as an enjoyable comedic send-up of suburb “culture” and romantic comedies themselves, the film devolves into the trappings of cliché as embodied by the acting of Jessica Biel.
A former premier league star, George (Butler) is down on his luck, having wasted his money and glory. Lacking any business sense (his real estate venture into “vacation homes in Winnipeg” bottomed out), George ends up coaching his son’s soccer team in a suburb near Virginia. This, naturally, throws him in the path of his ex-wife, Stacie (Biel), helicopter and horny soccer moms, and Gordon Gekko-esque fathers (Dennis Quaid steals the film in this role).
An impressive ensemble cast, from Catherine Zeta-Jones to Uma Thurman to Judy Greer, the banter around the soccer pitch gets laughs. Especially since all the parents seem manic or tweaked out. (Let the campaign for Quaid as Best Deadbeat Dad in a Supporting begin, as his fake tan is as good as his megalomaniac persona.) All this fun, however, is quickly undone as Quaid, Zeta-Jones, Thurman, and Greer largely exit the film, usurped by the bland Biel in another forgettable “romantic” role. While the first part of the film is oddly campy, the latter is what is expected from the director who brought us The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) and Seven Pounds (2008), Gabriele Muccino. And this disjoint makes the grating conclusion all the more tiresome. Enough to make you hand out a red card.
- Kiva Reardon
Hyde Park on Hudson (Grade: C)
To watch Hyde Park on Hudson is to witness a wonderful performance by legendary comedic actor Bill Murray. In taking on the character he called the “most formidable I’ve ever been asked to play,” Murray did away with his deadpan irony and infused President Franklin Delano Roosevelt with the warmth and humanity for which he was so loved. The story of the film takes place over the course of a weekend in June, 1939 when the King and Queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman, respectively) paid an historic and globally significant visit to the home of FDR and his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) in Hyde Park, New York.
Without necessarily sidestepping the historical importance of the King and Queen’s visit, Richard Nelson’s often humourous script focuses predominantly on the intimate aspects of the characters. Chief among these private affairs is the scandalous love affair between FDR and his cousin Margaret “Daisy” Stuckley (Laura Linney). With the exception of the noteworthy scene where the President and the King exchange sentiments on their respective disabilities (polio for the former, speech impediment for the latter), the majority of the film’s more “personal” moments are sloppily executed with aimless narration, wandering camera pans and muddled editing. Then, of course, there’s the main problem with Hyde Park on Hudson–that even though it’s supposed to be an intimate portrait of giant historical figures, one can’t help but wonder what the point of it all was.