Expectations Duly Lowered, Tinkerbuff
It’s rather uncanny how two particular scenes within Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s latest family-friendly vehicle, The Tooth Fairy, mirror the descent of its leading man’s once-promising acting career. During the first-referenced scene, Johnson’s character, Derek Thompson, flushes himself down the toilet so that his hockey teammates don’t discover that he’s a fairy. Note my use of italics, which is fully intentional and references the movie’s unintentional connotation of fairies somehow being, well, kind of gay. Within the second-referenced scene, Derek, wearing a pink leotard and tutu, stalks through Tooth Fairyland with biceps bulging and glutei maximi flexing before angrily picking a fight with his wingless fairy case worker, Tracy (Stephen Merchant), who has “a real funny name” for a guy and a bad case of “wing envy.” Before long, the Fairy Godmother (Julie Andrews) breaks up the kertuffle, and then it hits me — holy crap — how, exactly, did these three actors end up in the same cesspool of cinematic sewage?
Obviously, there’s a semi-logical explanation as to how Dwayne Johnson got here. In all bloody likelihood, the fellow had just embarked upon his magical tour of kiddieland, and some studio exec got a bright idea while witnessing The Game Plan, in which Johnson dressed up in tights to play the role of “Tree” in his daughters ballet recital. So, The Tooth Fairy now further emasculates Johnson in what is, essentially, an elaborate sight gag that cannot sustain itself over the course of 100 minutes. The movie itself is basically a montage of how many different ways The Rock can humiliate himself. Let’s watch The Rock jump off a balcony. Let’s watch The Rock get knocked off a sleeping kid’s bed. Let’s watch The Rock get hit in the balls. Let’s watch The Rock get real angry and still retain a self-effacing, panty-dropping smile. (Strangely, he’s lost his touch in that last regard.) While’s it’s not terribly shocking that The Tooth Fairy comes from director Michael Lembeck (The Santa Clause 2, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause), it’s rather inexcusable that it took five credited screenwriters to not only pen “You can’t handle the tooth!” but also such gems as “The tooth will set you free!” and “That’s the tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth!” If this film had any heart or conscience, the lazy script could at least be partially redeemed, but that’s not the case here. Instead, the writers deliver an incorrigible prick of a protagonist, who is redeemed far too easily with no real lessons learned.
Derek Thompson is a self-loathing creep and hockey player who delights in knocking out the teeth of opposing team members; that’s how he earned the nickname “The Tooth Fairy” (which doesn’t bother him at all, as opposed to actually becoming a fairy). Of course, Derek doesn’t really believe in magic, and he horrifies his long-suffering girlfriend, Carly (Ashley Judd, who enjoys no romantic chemistry with Johnson), when he informs her young daughter, Tess (Destiny Grace Whitlock), that the tooth fairy doesn’t even exist. Oh, but there’s an underlying cause of Derek’s cynicism. You see, not only does Derek not believe in fairies, but, more importantly, he also doesn’t have faith in himself. When it comes to his hockey career, Derek’s not exactly a badass … more like a circus sideshow … and even more like a goon, who started acting out in violence as a minor leaguer when he was sent back from the majors while recovering from an injury. In fact, it’s been several years since he’s even taken a shot at the goal, and this self-induced stagnation disgusts Derek so much that he feels compelled to destroy the hopes and dreams of all of the children he encounters. “Lower your expectations,” he tells them. and so he receives a summons to Fairyland, where he is pronounced guilty of “first-degree murder of fantasy.” For two weeks, Derek must serve his sentence by juggling the nightly duties of a Tooth Fairy with his daily hockey drill. Unbelievably, Derek isn’t even the most masochistic character of this movie. How many times can Carly grow irritated with Derek when he sprouts wings, fakes a stomachache, and runs out on a dinner date? And how many times will she take him back? Ashley Judd plays her role — that of a weak-willed female, who is all too willing to endlessly forgive her cad of a boyfriend — as straight as possible for an actress who’s just in it for the paycheck.
Other supporting roles are inexplicably filled by other familiar faces. Billy Crystal pops in as Jerry, who trains fairies how to use their magic pouch, which holds stuff like “shrinking paste” and “amnesia powder.” Seth McFarlane also makes a brief cameo as the dealer of illicit fairy substances. These two actors serve their rather inconsequential purposes and quickly run screaming off set. The lone bright spot in this film is Stephen Merchant, who is best known as the co-creator of “The Office” (the original English version) and “Extras,” as the wingless case manager tasked with rehabilitating Derek’s lack of belief. Merchant is an acquired taste, but he’s well worth those initial few comedic sips. Regretfully, his first feature film ends up being the movie that shall be most remembered for dressing The Rock in powder blue satin pajamas (and that classy pink tutu). This, unfortunately, brings us back to the fact that The Tooth Fairy is all about Dwayne Johnson.
Look, the novelty of watching the tough guy comedically throw himself into the family-film scene is over. This absurd incongruity just isn’t cute any longer, and it’s not just that Arnold Schwarznegger and Vin Diesel have done this to death already. After four rapid-succession kiddie flicks, only Johnson is to blame for wearing out his welcome. Admittedly, Johnson is a rare mix of muscles, charm, and dazzling smile, and he does well at interacting and establishing a rapport with his child co-stars, but he hits the discomfort skids when dealing with other onscreen adults. It seems like the guy can’t reconcile his former “grown-up movie” persona with his recent kiddie flick fetish. Perhaps it’s time for a drastic change of plans. Since Johnson has obviously taken a page out of Schwartznegger’s “Kindergarten Cop” career detour, perhaps an imminent and permanent move to politics would be prudent, for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, movie star, has clearly left the building.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.
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