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The Game Plan

There comes a time in the life of every action hero when he must put away his Uzi, Glock or scimitar. A time when he must turn away from his bounty hunting habits or super spy secret identity. The action hero must clench his chiseled jaw line; tighten the baroque ripples of his abdominals and sally forth into the self-parodying realm of the heart-warming kid movie. Bruce Willis did it in The Kid. Vin Diesel did it in The Pacifier. Arnold Schwarzenegger did it again and again and again in at least three movies that I can think of.

The formula is clear: sports star, cop, or some other kind of emotionally inaccessible tough guy has a cute-as-a-button kid dumped in his lap and by the end of the movie has learned how to love/the important things in life/the true meaning of Christmas.

Cynicism aside, it can’t be said that the formula doesn’t work. The playground dweeb in all of us loves nothing more than to see the muscle bound goliath brought low by the charms of a twee little imp in curls/overalls/spectacles. Naturally, the kids love to see their own kind, armed only with precocious cuteness, triumph over the adult. The kids in the audience of The Game Plan certainly loved it. I mean, come on, The Rock in ballet tights? Comedy!

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays Joe “The King” Kingman, the Elvis and self-obsessed quarterback of the fictional Boston Rebels. Kingman spouts catchphrases, hogs the ball and parties with his fellow bachelors, but of course seems to have few real friends. All of this changes when 8-year-old Payton Kelly (Madison Pettis) knocks on his door and announces that she’s staying with him for a month while her conveniently unreachable mom is doing charity work in Africa. Faced with a daughter he never knew he had, Joe learns a valuable lesson about love, sharing and dance belts.

There is nothing about this flick that is remotely surprising. It’s chock full of the same old characters we see every time: the feisty love interest, the doofus buddy, the family man who had it right all along – they’re all there. It’s a tidy package designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience. There’s football, princesses, animals and ballet, with enough subtle adult gags and slick dance and sports sequences to keep the adults from chewing off their limbs to escape and an ample supply of mess-making, dogs in tu-tus and humiliation to keep the young’uns giggly.

The Rock isn’t stretching himself. His performance is one-note and there’s not much emotional range, even when the script hands it to him on a plate. However, his knack for physical comedy along with his native charm and charisma float him through the film at an acceptably entertaining level. And really, he had me at leotard.

Young Mistress Pettis is a cutie and though her delivery was more in line with that of a Welch’s Grape Juice commercial she managed to steal every scene she was in – no small feat when playing against a pro wrestler. Kyra Sedgewick pulled off a masterful performance as Joe Kingman’s agent. She was a brittle, icy, Machiavellian horror, and at the same time utterly hysterical – the perfect foil for The Rock’s natural warmth.

The script could be clever at times, but too often resorted to clichés and winks to the audience. Some times it seemed like the director was sitting next to you screaming “Get it??!?” into a bullhorn whenever the story hit a plot point or a character had a realization. Subtlety is not a hallmark of this genre, but occasionally they bordered on the insulting. We get it! Move on!

There really are no surprises here, but then The Game Plan doesn’t have any pretensions to high art; it’s not Pan’s Labyrinth or Ratatouille. It’s just a fun family picture about a football star falling out of love with himself and into love with his daughter. It’s sweet, kids will love it, and if you’re willing to forgive its failings, you might, too.

Marin Carpenter

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