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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘Playing for Keeps’

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman |

2 Stars — Shallow

Playing for Keeps is a prime example of how A-list actors cannot redeem a shallow story. It also shows how a character’s sexual promiscuity undermines a story attempting to convince the audience that he is able to be restored to his marriage and become a faithful husband and exemplary father.

Written by Robbie Fox, who is known for the 1993 film So I Married an Axe Murderer, the film is directed by Gabriele Muccino, known for The Pursuit of Happyness and the troubling Seven Pounds. The partnership of these two men creates dialogue that is as ineffectual as it is offensive.

The ensemble cast is a collection of veteran actors who provide solid performances but are often one-dimensional caricatures rather than believable and likable people.

The primary character is George Dwyer (Gerard Butler), a man who was once a soccer star but is no longer able to play. But his rugged good looks and notoriety make him a target for the soccer moms of his son’s team. These women include the seductive Denise (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the emotionally unstable Barb (Judy Greer) and the adulterous Patti (Uma Thurman). Into this sexual quagmire is laced a violently jealous husband, Carl (Dennis Quaid), who is himself an adulterer.

The people George wants in his life are his 9-year-old son, Lewis (Noah Lomax), and his ex-wife, Stacie (Jessica Biel). Having had a deeply romantic marriage when George was at the peak of his soccer career, it was his childishness and promiscuity that cost him his family when Lewis was only 4 years old.

Now, having lost his career and his wealth, George realizes that it was the loss of his family that he most longs to recover. It is this quest that brings him to the town where Stacie and Lewis have built a new life without him.

Although the moral message of the film is the importance of family, the process by which this is presented lacks moral depth. It is this lack that causes the film to be dismissible.


» The opportunity for wealth and casual sex that is made available to a young athlete is difficult to resist. The result is often broken marriages and families. How do you think we can provide protection for these young people?

» The attraction and pursuit by these soccer moms seems to reflect the male worldview of the writer and director. Would you suggest they add a woman to their writing team in future films for more realistic balance, or do you think films from a strictly male or female perspective is more interesting? Why do you answer as you do?

» The desire Lewis has to bring his mother and father back together is not hampered even when his mother is preparing to marry another person. How much influence do you think children have in the remarriage or second marriages of their parents? Why?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit

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