To be fair, not only did I watch Dwayne Johnson in his previous life as a professional wrestler, I also watched his Dad "Rocky" Johnson on Saturday's growing up. Nothing quite beats pro wrestling, kung fu movies and frozen pizza when you're a kid, but I digress. When Dwayne decided to transition more out of the realm out of professional wrestling, I understood the reason for the decision; many of the sport's bigger names have died at an early age, the result of living much of the time on the road and the physical effects of it weighing on some. Johnson's early movie career was focused on more of the action side of things, but The Game Plan is a continuing step away from the slams and the bangs of those films and taking steps into more broader-based fare, including his first family film.
The film was written by Nichole Millard and Kathryn Price, their first screenplay, but the film was produced by Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray, who have been responsible for similar sports/family films like The Rookie and Miracle. In The Game Plan, Johnson plays Joe Kingman, the quarterback of the fictitious Boston Rebels. He's like a Dan Marino/Randall Cunningham hybrid, a guy with a load of talent who's never won a Super Bowl. But in branching away from those players, he tends to lean on himself and his talents late in the game, rather than relying on his receivers and other offensive weapons designed to get him there. After a particularly hard fought win (which cinematically is nothing more than a day in Joe's life), he's woken up the next day to a young female visitor at his door, which is good. The problem for Joe is that this visitor is an eight year old named Peyton (Madison Pettis), who is claiming to be Joe's daughter. For Joe, a football star and lifelong bachelor, this is bad. So the next ninety minutes or so are designed for the viewer to see Joe become more and more accustomed to the idea of being a dad and being a mindful person around his friends and teammates.
Yes, I know, this has been seen countless times over in many, many different ways, and yes, Johnson's role in the film is designed to tap into the back that is the Disney money, so the important things to consider in films like this is the execution of the main character and the interaction between said character and their young co-star, whomever that might be. Johnson holds his own in the role, providing a comic touch when needed, though when occasionally gets on the "goofy" side, it was a little bit trite. As for the chemistry between him and Pettis, it does seem to work pretty well, Pettis is smarter and tougher than her age, and she plays off Johnson with surprising ease. In supporting roles for the film are Joe's agent, played by Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer), his main wide receiver (Morris Chestnut, Boyz in the Hood) who is a family man on his own, and the closest thing to a love interest for Joe is Peyton's ballet teacher Monique (Roselyn Sanchez, Basic). As opposed to other similar films though, at least Joe and Monique are friends, rather than Monique being swept up in the "Joe-ness" and laying a big one on him at the end.
Don't get me wrong, there's still a lot of stuff in the film that's nothing you haven't seen before. You've got your usual second act conflict that runs into the third for the main protagonist. The "comeback from the big injury" is trotted out and makes an appearance. The big tough guy is put into a metrosexual or effeminate situation also rears its head. But like I said before, the ways in which Johnson and Pettis manage to execute an already-discussed story is respectable at the very least. I'm a cynical, grouchy man by nature, and I could see the dramatic plot devices coming a mile away, but they came and went in my rear view mirror pretty quickly and without a lot of grief, and I wound up liking The Game Plan. The downside of all this? Well, it did make almost $100 million after all, and it is Disney, so a sequel can't be far away, one that won't have the same cast. Brace yourselves for that letdown accordingly, but make sure that you take the time and enjoy the ride on The Game Plan while it's still here.
The Blu-ray Disc:
We get The Game Plan presented to us in 2.40:1 widescreen, using the AVC MPEG-4 codec. This one looks really good, with a lot of deep blacks that provide a great deal of depth and detail, and the image is multi-dimensional throughout the film. I was disappointed that the film didn't employ a brighter color palette, but the red Rebels uniforms look rich and vivid. Another top notch effort from Disney.
The PCM soundtrack that accompanies The Game Plan is a mild letdown. Sure, the dialogue is reproduced clearly and stays in the center channel for most of the film, and the football hits possess the desired amount of subwoofer usage and activity. However, there's not a lot of active surround usage or directional effects over the entire film, and it just wasn't as consistently immersive as I felt it could have been.
A quick technical note: this disc went through a few static hiccups when playing it on my Samsung DVD player (the BD-UP5000, for those of you keeping score). In stopping and starting the disc, ejecting it and powering off the unit, this problem seemed to disappear. Just a heads up.
Some of the extras are presented in high definition, some aren't, and some extras are exclusive to the Blu-ray disc, some aren't. Johnson and director Andy Fickman (She's the Man) join forces for a "unique commentary", according to the back of the package, but it actually is a commentary with telestrator which also gives the participants a chance to stop and start the commentary when they choose, so the track runs a little over two hours (the film runs one hour and fifty minutes). The telestrators are color coded with Fickman being yellow and Johnson being blue, and they basically point out the occasional silly thing in the background set, or they pause on a funny face. Fickman loves pointing out rather dryly that he and Johnson were separated at birth from a physique point of view, and if it wasn't said several times, it probably would have been funny. They do watch the film from time to time, but each has their fair share of anecdotal production information, though Fickman doesn't get very deep into any real useful information to speak of. Overall it's a pretty engaging track, and the telestrator feature is fun, but I wouldn't spend time listening to it again if I were you. From there, "Drafting the Plan" (20:13) is a standard look at the production itself, with the cast sharing their thoughts on the characters they play and on the production overall, and they all talk about what drew them to the film. It also covers the rehearsals of the football sequences, when Johnson talks about a ruptured Achilles that occurred just before principal photography, and the preparation for the ballet sequences are shown, mainly from Pettis' point of view. It covers a bit of ground and it's worth checking out. A dozen deleted scenes with introduction follow (25:50), and apparently most of these scenes are Fickman's favorites, and most of Fickman's favorite scenes are cut for pacing and timing as he mentions. Aside from some extended football and ballet sequences, many of the scenes aren't worth writing home over, though while they are in high definition, they do appear in some unfinished form (like the football scenes). Two quick featurettes surrounding ESPN and the film are next, with Johnson (in character) discussing what drives Kingman (4:59), and the other piece is an interview with Johnson as he discusses playing the role of quarterback (3:28). "Peyton's Makeover Madness" is a set-up game that can be played if one so is inspired, getting a chance to put kitschy knock-off jewels onto some of Kingman's most prized possessions. Three minutes of outtakes, presented in the old "Albert Achievement Awards" style, round the disc out, along with the film's trailer and trailers (in high definition) to other Disney films.
Yeah, The Game Plan is far from original, and sure a lot of things in the piece are filled with so much cheese that you should have a cholesterol count done afterwards, but it is harmless fun for the boy or girl in your family, and it's an effective package of bonus material combined with an excellent video presentation. Would I buy it? God no, I don't have kids, but it's safe enjoyment if you've got some.