When 2005's Vin Diesel nightmare "The Pacifier" crossed over into blockbuster status, I knew there was going to be a heavy price to pay. Now emboldened by suburban moviegoer approval, Disney has recruited Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to be their next experiment, taking an extremely personable action star and turning him into a stooge for the benefit of a charmless, artificially-flavored family film.
Joe Kingman (Johnson) is a wildly popular, but profoundly arrogant superstar quarterback living the bachelor life of ease with his bulldog, Spike. Knocking on his door one day is Peyton (the cruelly robotic Madison Pettis), a young girl claiming to be Joe's daughter. The football star, horrified, but willing to give her a chance, takes the girl in, only to find she centers his entire life. Now a family man, Joe must confront the self-absorbed person he once was to forge a better future for his new family, even if it means constant humiliation in front of his prank-happy football teammates.
I like Dwayne Johnson. In the past, I've tried to give him the benefit of the doubt with his lackluster film choices simply because the guy is a charmer and seems capable of playing a wide range of roles, unlike his hulking brethren. I know Johnson craves big screen success, and making movies like "Game Plan" might fatten his box office standing, but artistically, this is a massive step backwards for his career.
A naked attempt to widen Johnson's audience, "Game Plan" is a paint-by-numbers foray into family comedy hell. This is a movie that doesn't offer one piece of innovation or inspiration. It's a bland paste heated up for the gaping maws of the mass audience and, unless you're four years-old, will hold nothing of interest. Director Andy Fickman did such fine job giving convention the purple nerple with the snappy "She's the Man," that it kills me to see the filmmaker turn into a Mouse House zombie for "Game Plan."
The jokes are simple: take big, butch, obscenely polished Johnson and place him in the crosshairs of every childhood delight and fantasy. We have a bubble bath mishap, bedazzling injuries, ballet humiliations, a single-tear-rolling-down-the-forlorn-cheek moment, and plenty of singing (Joe is an Elvis fan). Of course, the trooper that he is, Johnson radiates a peculiar enthusiasm for all this tripe; perhaps a loved one was being held off-camera with a bomb strapped to their chest, and if he didn't articulate at top volume...kablooey. Or, more depressingly, perhaps Johnson was getting his jollies finally being allowed to play against type. Either way, his work here is gratingly overexcited, and, paired up with such a shrill, assembly-line tyke like Pettis, the results are unwatchable.
Fickman pours on the melodrama, slapstick, and bizarre continuity errors (I've never seen a Boston January that permitted short sleeves and outdoor dining), thumbing through the Disney "How To Make a Heartwarming Family Film" playbook to keep the film as close to intolerable as he can without falling over. Not only is Joe and Peyton's relationship put through the cliché obstacle course, we also have flirtations between the superstar and Peyton's ballet teacher (Roselyn Sanchez), and a big finale with Joe at the "Championship Game." I can only image subplots were cut featuring Joe saving a baby whale or Peyton organizing a union.
Punishing for nearly two hours of screentime, "Game Plan" finally locates a fully Disneyfied ending, where everyone leaves happy and without the intervention of the family courts. Hooray! However, the viewer may not be as lucky. I wish Dwayne Johnson well, and I respect Disney's tenacity when it comes to their dreadful formulas, so I look forward to next year's offering: 50 Cent in the Cub Scout comedy, "Da Top Scout."
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