Playing for Keeps stars Gerard Butler as former professional soccer player George Dryer, who moves to Virgina in order to reconnect with family and becomes the coach of his kid’s soccer team in the process. Thrilling, right? Well, if you want to know whether or not George’s story has a happy ending, you’re in luck because I was one of the few people who saw it, so you don’t have to. Warning: Spoilers ahead. (But really, that’s the whole point of this, no?)
Dryer’s pro career ended with an injury, and now he’s broke and living in Principal Figgins’ (Iqbal Theba) guest-house. (Okay, he has a real name, but I can’t remember it.) At the beginning, we see George making what looks like a crappy audition tape for a sportscaster’s job. He takes the demo to Ben from Grey’s Anatomy (Jason George), who is a local sports anchor. (Okay, I do remember his name — it’s Chip. But only because it’s slightly relevant later on in the film.) Ben from Grey’s Anatomy promises to take a look at the tape. And thus, an important plot device is born.
Trying to repair his relationship with his son Lewis (Noah Lomax) and thus his ex Stacie (Jessica Biel) — whom he walked out on years ago — George takes the boy to his soccer practice. Lewis tells his dad that they never score any goals, and George looks concerned as the coach instructs the kids to kick the ball with their toes. (Even non-soccer people know this is wrong.) At another practice, George gives the kids a few tips and the parents are so thrilled that they immediately want him to be the team’s coach.
Now that he’s in charge, George learns to navigate the very twisted world of soccer parents. Carl (Dennis Quaid) gives him an envelope full of cash to “sponsor” the team — and make sure his son plays goalie and his daughter sings the national anthem. (George ends up using this money to pay his rent.) Carl also throws a party for George, and lets him borrow his Ferrari. (Because apparently, people do that?) In return, George bails Carl out of jail. (Doesn’t everyone get their kids’ coach to post bail?) And George finds out that Carl is a very jealous man, having beat up a guy who hit on his wife.
Meanwhile, soccer moms Denise (Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones), Barb (Judy Greer) and Patty (Oscar nominee Uma Thurman) all vie for George’s attention. Barb gets there first, and they have sex. Denise gets there second, but don’t worry, they still have sex. However, Patty is Carl’s wife. And when she shows up at George’s house, he kicks her out.
As for Lewis, George keeps screwing up. Because he’s juggling Carl, Denise, Barb, and Patty, he’s always late, and he dumps Lewis with Denise’s nanny while the two of them engage in sexual shenanigans. But slowly, he begins to become a better father — and Stacie, who is engaged to Matt (James Tupper), takes notice.
Remember the demo tape? Well it turns out that Ben from Grey’s Anatomy is friends with Denise, a former sports reporter herself. She saw the tape and helps George make a better one, which gets him an audition with ESPN. (I actually found this part the most plausible, since George is supposed to be this world-famous player.) He aces the audition, getting the job. But it means having to move from Virginia to Connecticut. And he doesn’t want to go without Stacie and Lewis. When he’s back from his interview, George finds Stacie at a bridal salon. While she’s in her gown, George makes an impassioned speech, asking her to call off the wedding, and uproot to Bristol with Lewis. She runs out of the salon, but is waiting for him in her car, where she tells him she wants to be with him. They kiss.
But wait, there’s more. At the final soccer game of the year — the one they need to win for the championship — Carl attacks George. See, Carl had Patty followed, and now has photos of her in George’s bed, wearing only her underwear. The kids still win the game, and they spot Carl and George fighting. They think it’s a celebration and all pile on top. When the melee ends, the naughty photos are strewn across the field. Stacie calls it off with George after seeing the pictures.
The day he is set to leave for Connecticut, George arrives at Stacie’s house to say goodbye to his son. He promises that they will talk all the time on the phone. As he drives off, Stacie tears up and Matt asks her if she still loves George. She replies, “I never stopped loving him.”
On his way north, George ends up turning around and driving back to Stacie’s house. He tells Lewis he couldn’t leave because he wants to stay close to him. When Stacie asks if he gave up the job, and he tells her that he did, she reveals she called off the wedding. Yay! They celebrate by playing soccer in the yard.
At the end, it’s revealed that a few months later, the local sports network calls — and George gets a sports show with Ben from Grey’s Anatomy called ‘The Chip & George Show.” And they all lived happily ever after — except, presumably, Carl, Patty and Matt. (Barb ends up with Principal Figgins and I think Denise is still married.)
NEXT PAGE: And now for a few thoughts …
1. George never got in trouble for using the soccer cash to pay his rent.
2. As my colleague Sandra Gonzalez, who graciously offered to accompany me, pointed out: Biel gets mad at him for those photos of Thurman, a woman he didn’t actually sleep with, but nothing ever comes of his dalliances with Zeta-Jones and Greer.
3. I will never have kids if it means having to give up my dream job. Sorry, I’m just that selfish.
4. I will never have kids if it means having to go to all their soccer practices. Games are fine, but practices? No, thank you.
5. Why did Butler keep calling it “soccer”? Isn’t it football to him?
6. In case you were wondering, yes, they did find time to feature a shot of Butler without his shirt.
7. Stacie met George when she was a 23-year-old backpacking around Europe. When I was a 22-year-old backpacking around Europe, I did not meet any hot football players. But then, I don’t look like Jessica Biel.