Monday, October 08, 2007

The Game Plan / ** (PG)

Joe Kingman: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Peyton Kelly: Madison Pettis
Stella Peck: Kyra Sedgwick
Monique Vasquez: Roselyn Sanchez
Travis Sanders: Morris Chestnut

Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Andy Fickman. Written by Nichole Millard & Kathryn Price and Audrey Wells. Running time: 110 min. Rated PG (for mild thematic elements).

A few of years back, an NBA-fan friend of mine told me he couldn’t wait to see “Like Mike”. This shocked me coming from someone I knew to be a big fan of Italian art horror films and a constant derider of the happy Hollywood mainstream. He explained that it was the off-season and he was going through a major basketball jones.

Well, unfortunately for us NFL fans, it is not the Hollywood norm to put out football movies during the off-season. But after the sleeper success of last year’s Disney pic “Invincible”, the House of Mouse has decided to try to capitalize on football fever once again this fall with the more kid-targeted football-themed “The Game Plan”. Still, I never would have considered seeing this vehicle for former college football star Dwayne Johnson if it hadn’t been for my six year-old boy, Jack, who is proving to be quite susceptible to the Disney Channel’s aggressive ad campaigns.

While “Invincible” told the compelling true story of a Philadelphia Eagle fan who won a spot on the team against all odds—a story screenwriters wouldn’t even consider making up— “The Game Plan” sticks to the more tried and true Disney strategy of having a cute kid come unexpectedly into a successful adult’s life and showing them all they are missing out on in life. Because this is what the movie is really about, football doesn’t much enter into the plot.

Johnson (“The Rundown”) is Joe Kingman, quarterback of the Boston Rebels and professional football’s richest and most eligible bachelor. Kingman is at the height of his career, landing record-breaking endorsement deals, when an 8-year-old girl named Peyton Kelly shows up at his penthouse claiming to be his daughter. Madison Pettis (of Disney Channel’s “Cory in the House”) plays the plucky Peyton.

The movie progresses through a series of accidents all too typical of inexperienced movie parents and super-intelligent kids who conveniently know more than they should except when they need to pretend that kids don’t know rules. In one scene, some sort of food substance is splattered all over the kitchen, and in another the kid uses too much soap for the bath, flooding the penthouse with bubbles. Somehow we never see these messes being cleaned up. There is Kingman’s manly bulldog, Spike, who is eventually dressed up in a tutu by Peyton. And when Kingman has a date, Peyton sabotages it with a vehemence only practiced by little girls in movies against women that are unacceptable companions for their single dads. In order to keep the score somewhat even, Peyton is not entirely truthful with Kingman about how she came to show up at his door that night.

While there is some humor in juxtaposing a single man’s life with the responsibility of becoming a parent, this father and daughter seem to exist in a strange isolation within Kingman’s luxury apartment, where they mostly only interact with each other. As a parent myself, I think the filmmakers miss several opportunities to explore the humor and exasperation of parenthood by keeping their relationship so isolated. For instance, take the date that Peyton sabotages. While the pair’s witty banter proves the 8-year-old is smarter than the 21-year-old fashion model, the sequence ends when Peyton weasels her way into the date by feigning allergies to the baby sitter’s dog. Why not go to the restaurant and see how the two girls interact in public? Public outbursts are always the most embarrassing for a parent.

Other characters seem to exist as at least a half-hearted attempt to expand the father/daughter relationship. Kyra Sedgwick (TNT’s “The Closer”) makes the most significant supporting contribution as Kingman’s anti-paternal agent, but I would rather think of her as a performer who is above the flatulence jokes that inevitably make their way into every children’s movie. Roselyn Sanchez (CBS’s “Without a Trace”) shows up as a never fully explored potential love interest for Kingman. And Morris Chestnut (the aforementioned “Like Mike”) plays apparently the only professional football player who has a family of his own.

“The Game Plan” certainly has its heart in the right place, and Johnson shows a range here that proves he is ready to move on to more challenging material than action heroes and athletic situational comedy dads. But this is far too much of a stick-to-the-rulebook production. It is a shame that writers can’t be more creative with a comedy like this and call a few audible plays of their own. But there is one thing this movie got 100% correct about being a parent, we will do anything for our kids, even go to substandard films. And it was worth it just to see my boy’s smiling face shining up at the screen.

Buy it: Football DVDs

No comments: