October 4, 2007

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The Game Plan (PG)
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson almost makes the threadbare comedy of a guy coming to terms with the kid he never knew he had (Three Men and A Baby, My Two Dads, What a Girl Wants, Baby Boom which starred Diane Keaton in the traditional “guy” role but same thing) entertaining in The Game Plan, a movie whose most attractive feature is its PG rating.

Joe Kingman (Johnson) is The King — both a nickname (one that leads to lots of Elvis-ness) and a mindset. He is the star player on the Boston Rebels football team and enjoys all sorts of perks and privileges (expensive car, Cribs-worthy apartment, model girlfriends, lucrative endorsement contracts). He is also sort of a bonehead — acting as lofty as everyone says he is and developing few real friendships or any meaningful relationships in his life.

Enter Peyton (Madison Pettis).

Peyton is 8, a wannabe ballerina (who might just have the talent to back up that aspiration) and a fan of the jewel-encrusted fashion statement of the Bedazzler. She shows up at Joe’s door with a birth certificate that says she’s his daughter (her mom was briefly married to Joe some eight years and nine months ago) and the news that she’ll be staying with him for the next month. In typical credulity-straining movie fashion, Joe more or less accepts this news and tries to make room for Peyton in his decidedly un-kid-proof life. After accidentally leaving her at the opening of his nightclub, he gets with the dad program — trading in his sporty car for a station wagon, turning his trophy room into a princess-worthy bedroom, volunteering at Peyton’s ballet school. That last part isn’t so bad as it introduces him to Monique (Roselyn Sanchez), the no-nonsense but ultimately soft-hearted ballet instructor.

Let’s forget the improbability of this story — pull any of the many loose threads in this plot and the whole movie unravels. And the sitcominess of the comedy, e.g. dog in a tutu, football players being goofballs, big plastic gems on Joe’s special football — with material like this story what else is the movie going to do? And never mind the one-dimensional characters — Kyra Sedgwick playing a less entertaining version of Amy Poehler’s agent character from Mr. Woodcock. These factors make the movie slog and feel even longer than its overly extended length (I’m pretty sure the story could have fit just fine into 90 minutes). But what’s more interesting about this film is not what sinks it but what almost saves it. Johnson, full of WWE hamminess though he still is, has an appealing screen presence. He’s good at silly comedy, so good that you almost don’t mind how truly silly it is. His eyebrow raises, his exaggerated muscle flexes, his surprisingly decent singing voice (he sings an Elvis song to calm down his angry daughter) — were it not for so many repetitive jokes, so much mugging by the only occasionally genuine-seeming Pettis and so many kid movie clichés, the likeability of Johnson alone might have had me tolerating, maybe even enjoying more of this movie.

As it is, even The Game Plan’s rarity as a whole-family-appropriate PG film (well, maybe not kids 8 and under, as the fart jokes are few and far between and there’s a lot of the kind of dialogue-based humor that can lose some kids) doesn’t make it worth paying money for. If the whole family finds time to enjoy some form of entertainment together, it deserves to be rewarded with better options than this. C

Rated PG for some mild thematic elements. Directed by Andy Fickman and written by Nichole Millard, Kathryn Price and Audrey Wells, The Game Plan is an hour and 50 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Buena Vista Pictures.