I’ve never really understood the illustrious culture found within the sport of WWF pro-wrestling, where grown men dress up in garish costumes and engage in mock combat for the unwashed masses. Equally mystifying is the character of “The Rock,” an alleged master of the scoop slam, flying clothesline, and layin’ the smackdown, and whose primary method of intimidation consists of raising his eyebrow towards his opponent. Perhaps I’m just a bit uncultured, but his catchphrase — “Do You Smell What The Rock Is Cooking?” — always brought to mind the image of someone eating some really bad huevos rancheros for dinner. Yet somehow, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has made a somewhat successful move from WWF performer to functional action film box-office draw. Of course, the transition from the Pure Action Film genre to the Alpha Male Saddled With Precociously Disarming Child genre has already been punched out by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger (Kindergarten Cop) and Vin Diesel (The Pacifier), and I expected to be snoozing my way through the latest retread, The Game Plan. So imagine my shame when I turned out to actually be entertained by this film.
Yes, the plot of The Game Plan is largely a paint-by-numbers, fill-in-the-blanks, Mad Libs affair. Life is good for Joe Kingman (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), who is the self-congratulatory quarterback of the Boston Rebels, a team on their way to winning an elusive football championship. Joe lives in a luxury penthouse where everything is controlled by a universal remote and is made of stainless steel and otherwise polished materials. To keep himself company on those cold and lonely Boston nights, Joe has a vacuous model girlfriend named Tatianna (Kate Nauta) as well as many lovely dolls willing to come in off the bench when Tatianna is away. However, after hosting a New Year’s Eve party attended by both teammates and wonderfully beautiful people, Joe finds himself alone with only his bulldog, Spike, to keep him company. This loneliness is quickly resolved the next morning, when eight-year old Peyton (Madison Pettis) shows up on his gleaming doorstep to introduce herself as his daughter, with the papers to prove it. Apparently, Mom had to jet to Africa for a month on a humanitarian mission and cannot be reached by phone or e-mail, so it’s up to Joe to play Insta-Dad for the next month. Like any athlete confronted with an illegitimate child, Joe immediately calls his sports agent, Stella Peck (Kyra Sedgwick). Peck wears enough makeup to outfit an entire circus of clowns, and she’s also the type of money-driven bitch who likely ripped out her own uterus at an early age to save herself from ever being impregnated. Through some interrogation and quick math, Stella and Joe conclude that Peyton was conceived at the end of his starter marriage and, presumably, via some tantalizing farewell sex. And thus, congratulations Mr. Fancy Pants QB — you’re a Dad.
As expected, Joe’s initial attempts to be a responsible father result in a complete clusterfuck. Early mishaps, like Joe taking his daughter to a nightclub and sort of forgetting to take her home, leave Peck in a perpetual state of damage control. But Peyton takes it all in stride and, despite the nightclub incident, finds it in her heart to continue disturbing Joe’s life, whether it’s by “bedazzling” Joe’s MVP football with girly rhinestones or dressing Spike up in an oh-so-cute tutu. Joe decides to enroll Peyton in ballet school, where he meets the stunning school director Monique Vasquez (Roselyn Sanchez) and is aghast — shocked, I tell you — by the fact that she doesn’t recognize his obvious celebrity. This feisty Latina teacher ends up strongarming Joe into playing the role of Enchanted Tree in the dance recital, which means we get to see Joe dress up in green tights. And it is as stupid as it sounds. Naturally, Joe gradually learns to be a reliable and caring father to Peyton, and after a series of emotional crises and resolutions, The Motherfucking Rock actually cries.
The most troubling thing about The Game Plan is the fact that, despite an entirely formulaic storyline, it totally sacked me. While most feel-good flicks find me rolling my eyes and staring at the closest timepiece, I bought into the film’s premise at first glance. And despite the normally unendurable 110 minutes of Disney frosting, I found myself willing to turn a mostly blind-eye to the plot holes. The film just manages to work, despite itself, in large part due to the fact that Johnson actually has an impressive screen presence and manages to deliver an emotionally authentic performance. The viewer actually buys into the idea that Joe has changed and matured into an enthusiastic and nurturing father, and this credibility helps ground the film. Plus, Johnson just oozes charm like invisible pheromones - at some point in the fourth quarter of the film, I think I might have actually been impregnated by Johnson’s smile.
And as scary as impregnation-via-cinema is, there’s actually another troubling thing here. While The Game is a Disney flick, it differs from the pure bubblegum pop of something like High School Musical, where ultrapop fantasy means nothing at all. The Game Plan’s storyline called for some reason that Joe wouldn’t know about his child, and the filmmakers provide a somewhat lazy explanation, offering Peyton’s sudden appearance as something to be glossed over in furtherance of the impending comedy. This plot device, however, results in a nodding acceptance of something truly dangerous — the notion that it’s perfectly okay for a pregnant woman to never inform the child’s father of the kid’s existence. Essentially, Disney is saying that it’s just peachy keen to offhandedly present such a scenario to the film’s target audience of young girls. I guess I’m too old to expect Disney or Hollywood to be socially responsible, but the whole thing has left me with just a little of the morning-after regret one might suffer from after being charmed into bed by The Rock. But as I say, he was really, really good in the film, and Madison Pettis was sufficiently decent as his daughter, helped by the fact that her dark ringlets and huge brown eyes give her more than a passing resemblance to The Rock. And I guess, if nothing else, I can take slight comfort in her performance and the fact that within the pool of candidates looking to ascend Lindsay Lohan’s throne of shame, Disney is at least trying to be a little racially diverse. Walt Disney’s head must be rolling in its cryogenic tank.
Agent Bedhead (a.k.a. “Kimberly”) lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and insults Pete Doherty daily at agentbedhead.com.The Sperminator
Film Reviews | September 30, 2007 | Comments ()