Movie: Movies made by committee are seldom as enjoyable to watch as when a single creative element, be it a talented writer, director, or even actor, are given the chance to present something near and dear to their heart. As the cost of making and promoting such movies goes through the roof though, they become far less likely to be made since the so called "safety" of the committee approach allows for less individual culpability if target box office success isn't met. This is one of the reasons why movies are made using a popular actor since they tend to have a guaranteed box office return; regardless of how ill equipped they are for a role. Such was the case for a little movie released a few months ago called The Pacifier, starring action figure Vin Diesel in the lead role.
Unlike his previous roles, this one doesn't rely so heavily on Diesel's action status, although it admittedly plays a role in setting up the character he plays, a Navy Seal by the name of Lt. Shane Wolfe. Wolfe is the kind of expert at getting things done that most of us enjoy watching in action as he kills, blows things up indiscriminately, and otherwise causes mayhem. By the title alone, you'd think he was sent into a foreign country to level it as previous leading action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger used to do but it was a little more down to earth than that. After a failed mission to secure a military project gets him shot, Wolfe volunteers for a related mission of taking charge of the security of the project leader's kids while said leader's wife goes on a trip overseas to a safety deposit box. Aside from the plot holes this involved, it gives Diesel the opportunity to do what all action heroes worth their salt must try; working with children.
Wolfe essentially takes over the household of the five children, telling that things will be done his way, "with no highway option" (in reference to the popular saying of "my way or the highway"). His interpersonal skills are found to be lacking since he has been raised by the military since he was 8 years old and this adds the element of a fish out of water that so many of us find compelling (after all, if the protagonist can succeed with little training in the art of finesse, so too can the viewer if given the chance; the ultimate feel good characteristic of such movies). The children find his methods unacceptable and stage a coup de etat, each side coming out somewhat scathed. The turning point of the movie comes in when the "bad guys" break in and fight Wolfe, thereby showing the kids that Uncle Wolfe isn't such a bad guy after all. Toss in a bully of a high school coach played by Brad Garrett (the tall guy from Everyone Loves Raymond), a few ninja, and a series of situations that would try the best of us and you have the basis for the movie designed to appeal to children more than adults.
Okay, the story itself was full of plot holes you could drive a truck through; all the elements of the story seemed designed by watching every other "action hero saves the day with the kids"; and the mighty Vin Diesel showed just about as much charisma with kids as I have but it was far from a bad movie. Initially written with Jackie Chan in mind, this Walt Disney release managed to offer up a cute experience for children, with some admittedly scary moments (for younger kids) from time to time, but it was not nearly as bad as so many of the professional critics would lead you to believe. Apparently, audiences thought so too since the movie grossed over $100 million bucks domestically in its first run and looks to be entertaining enough for the youthful audience it was made for. The director should be given credit for some of the success, especially since his biggest claim to fame (outside a directing a few movies) had previously been as a choreographer to numerous productions. Taking a tough guy like Diesel and converting him into "Diesel-lite" for the intended audience couldn't have been easy so for all the missed opportunities to really shine, the production still managed to entertain.
Also keep in mind that Vin Diesel's name alone brought in the crowds here; which contrary to the professional critics has a lot of value at the moment. I might not want to see him starring in Shakespeare but a common element of his films called FUN has long been established as his calling card; something snobs everywhere should consider in their ruminations of his movies. In short, I thought that for all the limitations of the movie, it was easily worth a rating of Rent It and a number of less demanding children will like it enough to buy a copy for that repeated viewing they so enjoy. If you're looking for a generic Vin Diesel action movie, look elsewhere but the family will probably appreciate this release far more than those kinds of shows.
Picture: The Pacifier was presented in anamorphic widescreen in the original 2.35:1 ratio color. It looked very solid with accurate fleshtones, a usually crisp focus (I was left wondering if some moments were caught by the editor though), and a decidedly pleasing use of the widescreen format (you can get the full frame version but you'll be missing out on a number of sight gags in my opinion; the widescreen was not gratuitous by any means). If you look closely, you'll see some production and continuity errors but this is not the type of movie deserving of that kind of scrutiny by anyone other than the types that hate Vin Diesel. I saw no compression artifacts, video noise, or pattern noise so it succeeded visually more often than not.
Sound: The audio was presented in the usual 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound English with a French track for those so inclined. There was a wide use of the channel separation in the action sequences as well as some of the more mundane spots around the house. It wasn't as good as some of Vin Diesel's other movies but it wasn't in need of such a track as much as they were either. There were also French subtitles and it was closed captioned for English so the deaf will be able to have fun watching it too. In all, the center channel got the biggest workout (no surprise there) but it wasn't made as disposable fluff in the audio department either.
Extras: Most of the extras were kind of light, with some minor deleted scenes, bloopers, and interviews of the cast and crew, as well as a series of television commercials that often made the movie look totally different (gotta love those guys in marketing!). None of these lasted more than a few minutes and most were pretty weak. The best extra though was the audio commentary by director Adam Shankman with the writers (Thomas Lennon and Robert Garant). It had a slow enough start that I considered blowing it off for the review, especially since the trio was set on sarcastically commenting on just about everything that came to their mind but after a little while, it got better and served to point out some of the matters that impacted making the movie. There was an underlying feel that they weren't happy with replacing Jackie Chan with Vin Diesel but I'd point out that this decision probably saved the company a lot of money given the return it has had since opening.
Final Thoughts: The Pacifier could've been a lot better since it often relied on sight jokes and playing off Vin Diesel in a manner that really minimized his talents but it was still kind of fun, even for me. There were too many kids here, limiting the amount of chemistry the cast had, too little use of Faith Ford and Carol Kane (each could've phoned in their roles; something the supporting cast could all claim in fact), and numerous missed opportunities for humor that apparently didn't come to mind with Vin Diesel playing the updated Mr. Mom Meets Kindergarten Cop Meets so many other similar movies and the recycled nature of the jokes made me wonder if the writers were given an impossible deadline so they borrowed (I'm being generous) elements from the genre over a single weekend to write this one up. That said, The Pacifier still managed to entertain despite overwhelming odds so feel free to disregard the critics and see why so many movie goers liked it.