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PLAYING FOR KEEPS (12A) Verdict:I THOUGHT for a moment that watching a Gerard Butler film as my first cinema-going experience of 2013 would be like having to endure a classic New Year hangover.

A) Because advance US reviews of Playing For Keeps suggested that it could be the year's biggest turkey, delivered a whole 12 months early, and B) his P.S. I Love You movie also opened in the first week of January, prompting severe feelings of deja vu.

In the end, Playing for Keeps is nothing like as bad as feared.

Anybody who just wants to lose themselves in some escapist mush might even want something this undemanding and I've seen far more unwatchable films.

A busy, opening-day audience at Cineworld Broad Street certainly stayed with it.

P.S. I Love You was, for the record, released six years ago. Astonishing, but true.

Perhaps it was the fact that it was based on a Cecelia Ahern novel and starred a double Oscar winner like Hilary Swank which has made the disappointing memory of watching it stay with me for so long.

Playing for Keeps is just another dodgy romcom from Hollywood's script factory. If this was a biscuit, it would be an own-label digestive, full of sugar and trans fats - but suited and booted in a glistening wrapper.

That's because while the substance is slight, the cast is something of an all-star affair.

As well as Butler, there's Jessica Biel (The Illusionist), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago), Uma Thurman (Kill Bill) and Judy Greer (The Descendants).

The Paisley-born Scot clearly attracts female stars like flies to a jam jar since his previous costars include Jodie Foster (Nim's Island), Katherine Heigl (The Ugly Truth) and Jennifer Aniston (The Bounty Hunter).

Here he plays George Dryer, a former Celtic footballer whose marriage to Stacie has broken down.

Once on the same Champions League pitch as David Beckham, Dryer looks every inch like a curly-haired star who could be a playboy off it.

As both George and Stacie hope to move on and rebuild their lives, there's the question of what to do with their football-mad son, Lewis (Noah Lomax).

Like so many ex-soccer stars with wavy hair, stubble on the chin and a twinkle in his eye, George fancies himself as a soccer pundit.

He even practises at home to a camera with his pants down.

But when the opportunity of working for ESPN crops up, what would a move to Connecticut mean? Stacie meanwhile, is hoping to remarry and is even set to choose her new dress.

Whether at home or on the road, the film is good looking enough for you to see where some of the budget went.

Director Gabriele Muccino, who deflated Will Smith's career with The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds, never gives up despite the paucity of material. But the script is a plodding, bynumbers affair - perhaps because screenwriter Robbie Fox must be rusty, having not had a decent credit since So I Married an Axe Murderer 20 years ago.

It's the sheer torpidity of the whole enterprise which lets the side down - particularly with the introduction of the supporting characters supposedly vying for George's six pack.

Neither Zeta-Jones (whose resistance to the natural ageing process isn't doing her any favours) nor the curvaceous Uma Thurman - only a year younger at 42 but looking far more attractive - get much to do.

And the way Dennis Quaid comes wading in at the climax is all the more ridiculous when you consider he would once have been getting so many of the parts that went to Harrison Ford.

Playing For Keeps is like a 0-0 draw.

As every Villa fan will tell you, there are worse results to suffer.



FLASH: Gerard Butler can't save Playing For Keeps from mediocrity
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jan 4, 2013
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