Friday, September 28, 2007

"The Game Plan" -- *

For those who worried that back-biting and cross-dressing ruined sports caster Marv Albert's chances of ever appearing in a Disney family comedy, your fears will be relinquished by "The Game Plan," the latest miserable entry in the "unlikely dad" genre. In addition to doing literally nothing to distinguish itself from other similar movies, it's an insanely assembly-line constructed manipulator that wastes the skills of some genuinely talented people.

Our central character to guide us through this tripe is Joe "The King" Kingman (Dwayne "The Rock" Rockman, er.. Johnson), an Elvis-obsessed egomaniacal quarterback for the Boston Rebels. Joe cares about his career and only his career ("Beyond the field, nothing else matters. Nothing," he says). He leads a life of self-absorption, partying all night, only caring about himself and his pit bull Spike. Much to his (and the audience's!) amazement, one day little Peyton (Madison Pettis) shows up on his doorstep, saying he's a daughter from a spur-of-the-moment sexual escapade with an ex-girlfriend, who Peyton says sent her. The movie is basically just a series of gags and set-pieces of the wacky shenanigans Joe and Peyton get into as he tries to balance his football career and fatherhood, all while he learns to be a better man and let people in. Jesus, I just vomited on my keyboard.

I've always maintained that, for a guy who was primarily known as a wrestler, Johnson has legitimate acting chops, particularly in comedies. He was one of the only things worth watching in "Be Cool" and upstaged Stifler in the comedy department in "The Rundown." He doesn't embarrass himself here, but he seems painfully aware he's acting for children; he broadly mugs to a far greater extent than he's done in the past and he constantly goes bug-eyed with wildly exaggerated takes. In the scene where his allergy to cinnamon, after eating Peyton's cookies, causes a supposedly hilarious lisp, the lisp apparently effects words that don't even have 's' in them (while shooting a promo ad, he shouts "Cath the magic!").

Pettis seemingly comes from the "cutesy kid with big doe eyes and a speech impediment" school of acting, but it doesn't help that the screenplay (written by three women) doesn't even make sense of her character. She's supposed to be intellectual enough to be familiar with Pulitzer-prize-winning scientists and classical composers, but she's not knowledgeable enough to realize 'X' and 'O' in playbooks don't stuck for hugs and kisses? Consistency isn't key here, just grabs for cheap, lazy laughs. They'll make a point to show how mature Peyton is in one scene, and the next one she'll be bedazzling Joe's football or painting nail polish on his dog.

Morris Chestnut's beatifically smiling character exists purely to show/tell Joe how great it is to be a family man, and Kyra Sedgewick truly embarrasses herself as Joe's money-grubbing agent. Made up to look like Casper, you'd think now that she's the star of her own hit show, she wouldn't need to take roles that require her to fart loudly from eating fast food.

The movie ratchets up the sentiment, the cutesiness and familiarity as it goes on that it becomes nearly unbearable; from Joe slipping on a doll and falling on his face to a big muscular deep-voiced football playing crying at ballet and saying "that's beautiful," this thing only gets worse as it goes along. By the time Peyton slo-mo walks with the team in an adorable mini-uniform to the closing strains of "Mr. Blue Sky," I was muttering to myself "I hate this movie." By the time the third act hit, I was just imagining dark turns the movie could take (e.g: Joe accidentally shatters Peyton's skull) to entertain myself.

Just to give you an idea of how by-the-numbers and cringe-inducingly cloying "The Game Plan" is, let me run down the final 20 minutes for for you: after an emergency "I'm allergic to nuts!" scare (played for tugging of heartstrings, not laughs), the kid gets taken away from Joe, but then returns to him with a group hug involving the two of them and the kid's mother, just in time for Joe to win the big game. We close with Peyton running up to Joe, exclaiming, "Daddy, you won the championship!" To which Joe just responds-- with a big smile while picking up his daughter-- "Oh Peyton, I've won much more than that." We fade out, leading into a closing credits sing-a-long to Elvis' "Burning Love." I'm not kidding. It sounds like a parody of a family film, no?

And for a movie that's sole purpose is to drain families of their hard-earned cash, it's yet another in a long line of Disney film that has the hypocritical balls to rail against commercialism. Even ignoring for a second that this is coming to us from DISNEY, it's also coming from a film that just minutes earlier had a scene start 5 seconds sooner than it needs to so we can watch Joe and Peyton catching the end of a Dunkin Donuts commercial.

If "The Game Plan" teaches us anything, it's that sometimes trailers are right. If a movie looks like shit, there's a good chance it's shit. If all the trailer can show show to sell us on the movie is a dog in a tutu, then that's probably the best the movie has to offer. I'm sure it'll gross $100 million (hey, just look at "The Pacifier's" success), but even for small children, this is uninspired, insulting crap.


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