-- This is supposed to be the time of year when high-quality movies come out, whether they're potential Oscar contenders or crowd-pleasing family fare.

So the presence of flat, hacky, unfunny dreck like "Playing for Keeps" – the kind of film that ordinarily tries to fly under the radar in January or February but would be torture to sit through in any month – is a total mystery.

It is truly baffling that all the talented, acclaimed actors involved actually read this script and then agreed to devote their time to this movie, especially given its uncomfortably flagrant misogynistic streak. Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman couldn't possibly need work this badly. And yet, here they are as soccer moms shamelessly throwing themselves at Gerard Butler and his tousled, manly mane.

The Scottish hunk, still struggling with comedy following "The Ugly Truth" and "The Bounty Hunter," stars as George Dryer, a once-great soccer star who's now divorced and in financial straits. At the film's start, he has moved to suburban Virginia to reconnect with his ex-wife, Stacie (Jessica Biel), and their young son, Lewis (Noah Lomax). Naturally, a couple of things happen pretty quickly, accompanied by an intrusively jaunty score. First, George gets suckered into coaching his kid's soccer team. Then, the mothers of all the other 9-year-olds start brazenly hitting on him, regardless of whether they're married or single. They're just so wildly hormonal, they can't control themselves.

Director Gabriele Muccino, who's had mixed results with Will Smith in "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Seven Pounds," veers awkwardly between wacky hijinks and facile sentimentality, and Robbie Fox's script doesn't feature a single character who resembles an actual human being. George is weirdly indifferent in the face of all this attention, the low point of which finds Thurman as a married socialite sneaking into his bed in a black bra and panties to seduce him in the middle of the night.

Then there's Greer, usually a standout comedian who can do nothing with her flimsy role as a needy, stalky divorcee. Zeta-Jones at least has the benefit of looking stylish and sultry as the former TV personality who uses her connections to woo him. But George doesn't seem interested in any of these people, so why should we be?

(Ah yes, there's a whole subplot in which George aspires to be a sports anchor and magically gets a job offer as a soccer analyst on ESPN, despite having zero on-air experience, after just one audition. Because there's a bounty of TV gigs out there just ripe for the picking. Do you think he'll leave this family, just as he's started to bond with them again, and move to Bristol, Conn., to take it???)

The men don't fare much better. Dennis Quaid is singularly manic and skeevy as Thurman's husband, a flashy high roller with a wicked jealous streak. And Stacie's personality-free fiance (James Tupper) apparently has no job, friends or interests, but rather hangs around the house all day waiting to answer the front door disapprovingly when George arrives to pick up his son.

The one woman with an actual backbone and sense of values in this movie is Biel's character. Unfortunately, she's also rendered as bland, conservative and, oddly, a little frumpy. It's difficult to tell what sort of magic these two forged together years ago and flat-out impossible to care whether they'll reconcile, although – spoiler! – that's just one of the many elements of the lazy, formulaic game plan in play here.

"Playing for Keeps," a FilmDistrict release, is rated PG-13 for some sexual situations, language and a brief intense image. Running time: 105 minutes. Zero stars out of four.


Motion Picture Association of America rating definition for PG-13: Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

Loading Slideshow...
  • 'One for the Money'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $11.5 million (Jan. 27) More like none for the money. Katherine Heigl's long-delayed romantic-comedy-thriller hybrid was ignored by audiences and slaughtered by critics.

  • 'Wanderlust'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $6.5 million (Feb. 24) Despite a charming cast (Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston), "Wanderlust" had one of the worst opening weekends of 2012.

  • 'Gone'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $4.7 million (Feb. 24) Gone: Not just a title, but a way to describe this thriller's fast exit from movie theaters.

  • 'John Carter'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $30.1 million (March 9) With a price tag reportedly north of $250 million, "John Carter" needed a lot more than just $30 million on opening weekend to be considered a hit. It was reported that <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/09/business/la-fi-ct-disney-carter-20120310">Disney lost as much as $165 million on this flop</a>.

  • 'A Thousand Words'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $6.1 million (March 9) Audiences didn't need a thousand words to dispose of Eddie Murphy's latest comedy bomb; two were sufficient enough. "No thanks."

  • 'The Five-Year Engagement'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $10.6 million (April 27) Another strong comedy that was cast aside by audiences, "The Five-Year Engagement" failed to recapture the glory of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," the last collaboration between star Jason Segel and director Nicholas Stoller.

  • 'The Raven'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $7.2 million (April 27) Nevermore.

  • 'Dark Shadows'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $29.6 million (May 11) Not a total bomb, but a turkey nonetheless. Despite the presence of Johnny Depp, Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows" failed to break $80 million overall in North America. Overseas, the grosses were a bit better, helping salvage what could have been a complete washout for Warner Bros.

  • 'Battleship'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $25.5 million (May 18) Because of a massive budget, "Battleship" was sunk.

  • 'Rock of Ages'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $14.4 million (June 15) No encore for this Tom Cruise bust.

  • 'That's My Boy'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $13.4 million (June 15) Lo for the days of "Jack and Jill."

  • 'Seeking a Friend at the End of the World'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $3.8 million (June 22) This low-budget, low-stakes romantic comedy set against the backdrop of the apocalypse opened in over 1,600 theaters, which raises the question: Why?

  • 'The Watch'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $12.7 million (July 27) "Watch," said "The Watch." "Nah," said audiences.

  • 'The Cold Light Of Day'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $1.8 million (Sept. 7) The cold light of day shined on "The Cold Light of Day" and left the Lionsgate release with one of the worst wide-release openings of the year.

  • 'Dredd'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $6.2 million (Sept. 21) More like dread, right?

  • 'Won't Back Down'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $2.6 million (Sept. 28) Maybe 20th Century Fox should have backed down. After debuting in 2,515 theaters, "Won't Back Down" now holds the record for worst saturated (2,500 theaters or more) opening of all time.

  • 'Frankenweenie'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $11.4 million (Oct. 5) Tim Burton in 2012: 0-for-2.

  • 'Seven Psychopaths'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $4.1 million (Oct. 12) Not even festival buzz could keep this film from earning a pittance on opening weekend.

  • 'Atlas Shrugged Part II'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $1.7 million (Oct. 12) Audiences shrugged.

  • 'Cloud Atlas'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $9.6 million (Oct. 28) With a budget of over $100 million, the box-office returns for "Cloud Atlas" were some of the most disappointing of the year. Too bad, since the movie is the kind of ambitious filmmaking that Hollywood rarely attempts. (Perhaps the ticket sales are the reason why.)

  • 'Chasing Mavericks'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $2.2 million (Oct. 28) Wipeout.

  • 'The Oogieloves in the BIG Balloon Adventure'

    <strong>Opening Weekend</strong>: $443,901 (Aug. 29) What list of turkeys would be complete <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/02/oogieloves-opening-worst-ever_n_1850478.html">without the biggest turkey of them all</a>. Congratulations, Oogieloves ... whatever you are.