Certain movies just don't play fair. They prepare you for 90 minutes of mindless tedium, tweaking your overworked aesthetic by promising to be routine, unimaginative, and highly, highly manipulative. You know the kind - puppy/kitten/little kid gets abused or lost, favored character is suddenly stricken with a life threatening disease, God, country or family invoked while inspirational music blares. Your resistors are ratcheted over into super contemptuous mode, and your brainwaves are honed to avoid maximum mawkishness. And yet, there they are - little drops of unnecessary emotion. It's as if your tear ducts sabotaged you. The Game Plan was one of 2007's surprise hits, and everywhere, professional pundits were trying to explain why? Had they looked more closely, they would have figured it out. Somehow, despite itself and its middle of the road intentions, this crowd pleaser manages to live up to said audience satisfying description.
After winning the big game and making it into the playoffs, Elvis obsessed QB for the Boston Rebels, Joe Kingman, gets an unexpected knock on his door. Turns out, his long lost daughter from a previous marriage has looked him up and want to make up for eight years of deadbeat daddying. At first, our bachelor lifestyle loving star wants nothing to do with the kid. He contacts his agent, Stella Peck, and demands she look into the mess. A quick review of the birth certificate confirms the worst - and now Kingman is stuck minding yet another child...not including his teammates. When little Peyton professes a love of ballet, our hero signs her up at the exclusive school of Ms. Monique Vasquez. But there's a catch - he has to appear in the recital as well. Naturally, his fellow athletes think this is peachy. Between girly tantrums and the pressures of parenting, Kingman is really on edge - and as luck would have it, the championship is right around the corner.
The Game Plan is a great big dumb fairytale about football. It's little girl's wish fulfillment wrapped up in Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's impossibly pearly whites and consistently shirtless torso. It's bling without the narrative blam, an episode of MTV's Cribs lost inside a Disney Channel episode of That's So Raven. What's supposed to be heartwarming and sweet comes across as cold and very calculated, and though director Andy Fickman cut his jib on such mindless pap as She's the Man, he remains pure journeyman. While audiences clearly responded to its proud papa pandering, delivering the film some unbelievable box office returns, it's clear that personality - not performance or narrative power - were the rationale behind the success. While he may not have a memorable amount of mise in his otherwise ordinary en scene, and has failed to graduate beyond food fight in the slapstick school of comedy, Fickman sure knows how to cast. It's the actors, not their actions, that save this shoddy effort. In many ways, America's new pastime deserves this kind of film. In other ways, it's on par with the overpriced players' salaries.
All props to the former steroid rager. Johnson has moved from living muscle bag to interesting onscreen personality. Between this, Southland Tales, and his previous pigskin extravaganza, Gridiron Gang, he has a bright future in film. Hulk Hogan must be weeping in his blond hair flecked do-rag. By challenging his public persona while simultaneous embracing its benefits, Johnson looks like a lifer. As long as there is a call for celebrities that can mime athleticism - and this Rock doesn't have to roll play - he'll have a place at Tinsel Town's trough. And since he comes across as both egotistical and idiotic, self-congratulatory and deprecating, the ruse works. We buy his overblown brat of a quarterback and wonder how his caricaturish teammates tolerate him. Wisely, Johnson is surrounded by two fine females to balance out the machismo monkey business. Kyra Segwick is the indirect villain, the kind of pinched gal Friday whose laser like professional makes her the perfect anti-caregiver. Besides, she's an agent. That disqualifiers her from any form of humanity automatically. On the other side is the sultry Roselyn Sanchez. As a potential paramour for Kingman, she's all curves and common sense.
Of course, all good things must come to an end - or in this case, an inconclusive stand still - and her name is Madison Pettis. Perhaps it's the lax scripting of this little girl catalyst. In some instances, she's devastatingly honest. In others, she's the wisest little acre not named Shirley Temple or Dakota Fanning. We almost buy her talent as a soon to be prima ballerina. We don't believe that she singlehandedly mastermined a trip to Boston and a side trek to meet our hunky hero. In many ways, The Game Plan is a movie made up of coincidences, unanswered questions, and logistical non-realities. If some small fry walked up to the Patriots locker room and asked Bill Belichick if she could speak to her "daddy", Tom Brady, said brat would be holed up in some NFL style witness protection program until the final seconds of the Super Bowl ticked off. Here, Peyton is the needle to the spinal column that our fallen, failing leader needs to get right back into the championship game. Naturally, all of life's lessons are learned between the sweat stained hash marks of a 100 yard field of dreams.
After touting their love of Blu-ray near the beginning of this DVD, Disney turns around and delivers a very effective standard digital picture for The Game Plan. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image is clear, colorful, and loaded with eye popping detail. This is especially true of the stadium sequences. There's a clarity in the image that really stands out here, a heightened sense of realism, if you will. Similarly, the balance between light and dark is expertly maintained and manipulated.
Presented in a decent, semi-immersive Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix, the aural elements of the film are equally effective. The back speakers really come alive during the music montages and game sequences, and the dialogue is always upfront and easily understandable.
Beginning with an interesting collection of deleted scenes (with explanations for their removal from Fickman himself) and ending with a couple of EPSN specials, the added content for The Game Plan is pretty good. The missing material mostly deals with added parent/child beats that the filmmaker, and his ever expanding near two hour running time, felt were superfluous. Also, the standard Making-of featurette and deranged Disney games are present. While it would have been nice to hear the director discuss his movie overall via a full length audio commentary, his random insights really do help us understand The Game Plan's purpose. It's meant to be light and charming, nothing else.
Still this can all be a very disconcerting experience. You've worked your aesthetic up to a fine honed cynicism. You've avoided the obvious pandering and rightfully believe that no amount of cinematic sentimentality is going to get your jaded goat. And then The Rock gets all gooey over his recent stint as full time father, and it's an unnatural Niagara Falls. You're choked up in spite of yourself. The Game Plan is that kind of subversive experience, and earns a Recommended for finding a way to be both purposefully premeditated and unexpectedly emotional. You may hate yourself for liking it, and there's a chance that none of the cast's considerable charms will actually work on you. But in a realm where the maudlin messes things up quite nicely, Fickman and company achieve a kind of begrudging excellence. The actual mechanics of such a stunt will perhaps always remain a moviemaking mystery.
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