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Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Game Plan

Sometimes I wonder how the Disney Company would fare if the entire blooming business was to go to into therapy together. Clearly the collective mind of the organization has issues ~ parental issues especially. I’m not saying old Walt himself hated his parents, but if you look at the hit movies the company has cranked out in the past couple of decades you have to wonder about the scriptwriters and the talking heads that approve these things and throw the big bucks around. Bambi’s mother got shot, who knows whatever became of The Little Mermaid’s mother. She was missing from the outset, which sounds a little fishy to me. The same with Nemo. Dad lost him, but Mom had been “sleeping with the fishes” permanently since the little nipper was a barely a tadpole. Then there was The Lion King. He watched with us on-screen when Dad Mufasa bought the farm.

You didn’t need to be animated at Disney to have parental tragedy either. Look at Stanley Yelnats in Holes or Mia Thermopolis of The Princess Diaries and its sequel. Both Papa-free.

It is practically a requirement that a Disneyfied kid has to be yearning for a missing parent. And that is basically what drives the opening of The Game Plan, the Essex Cinema’s newest release. In The Game Plan nine-year-old Madison Pettis (tv’s "Cory in the House") plays Peyton Kelly, an adorable moppet with a head full of shoulder-length curls and huge brown eyes, who appears one day without notice on the doorstep of superstar football quarterback Joe Kingman (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson; Gridiron Gang), a notorious playboy and ladies man. Kingman is at first unbelieving, then aghast, when he realizes that Peyton is his daughter, the result of a short-lived marriage from a decade earlier. Oops! Don’t you just hate it when you forget about those former wives that you left behind who might have been preggers at the time? It’s especially sucky if you just happen to now be famous and the paparazzi cover your ever move. Worse yet if you have a high strung public relations manager like Stella Peck (Kyra Sedgwick; tv’s “The Closer”) who thinks having a child around has the caché of discovering a serial killer in the family when it comes to increasing her client’s value at snagging big endorsements.

Stella isn’t happy to see Peyton about, and Joe has no idea what to do with a little girl, but according to Peyton she has no place else to go for the next month. According to the little girl, her mother dropped her at the airport in Boston with a car service instructed to send Peyton to her father’s and then her Mom was off to Africa for 30 days of volunteer work in the Sudan or some such blah, blah where there was no cell phone connection, and, of course, Peyton had absolutely no other relatives, so the only thing she could do was stay with Joe.

This, of course, is to be predicted or else we’d have a very short and not very funny movie. What we get instead is an hour or so of Joe and his teammates being jocks and well, manly men, while Peyton, even at nine, not-so-subtly introduces a feminine element into the very masculine enclave Joe called home. One thing that fascinated me was The Rock’s many muscles. Well, not so much his muscles, which we’ve all seen many times before, but in the many scenes where Dwayne is shirtless I found myself staring closely at his arms, trying to figure out where his tattoos disappeared to. I’ve seen Dwayne (and it seems weird to call him that instead of “The Rock”) on different talk shows where he has shown his extensive tattooing and talked about its significance and relationship to his Samoan culture. So here he is, tattoo- emancipated. So where’d they go? CGI eliminated in every frame or done with make-up? If it’s make-up, then it must be the same stuff Heather Locklear uses everyday because that chick must be like 200 years old, but I think I just may be digressing a bit now.

Director Andy Frickman (She's the Man) does a great job paralleling stories of Joe’s training for the Superbowl with Peyton’s practicing for her opening night ballet recital, and while there are some really funny scenes involving The Rock as a ballet dancer in Peyton’s show there is also a tenderness in one such scene brought on by the arrival of Joe’s teammates, first ridiculing the All Star and then cheering him on for being a great Dad, willing to humiliate himself for his daughter.
First and foremost The Game Plan is a love story. As Peyton gets to know her father she asks him a series of questions that he responds to as he would to any sports magazine interviewer, all but the final question, which is the most obvious and the one anybody in the audience with an IQ over their waist-size should be able to answer. While the question is brought up three or four times and never answered until the end, it is one of those things that is as sappy and expected as the shoe fitting on Cinderella’s foot. “What is the best thing to ever happen to you?” Well, duh!

A lot of critics will complain that The Game Plan is trite and as predictable as any television sitcom. Maybe it is, but oddly in a way that is also part of its charm. While the plot is ready for prime time, the novelty of the film is in Dwayne Johnson’s performance. He has been mostly dismissed by mainstream critics because of his roots in the WWE as a wrestler. It’s really unfortunate because he has grown considerably as an actor in each of his films, and in this one he takes a major turn from the usual action and fantasy genres and shows a very vulnerable side of himself as a man growing into parenthood. He stretches and allows himself to be the brunt of several jokes and he takes additional personal risks by singing on-screen and even going so far as to shedding a tear during an appropriately gentle moment.

While I‘m not the least bit interested in football and never have been, even I was swept up in the well-staged and edited action during the climactic Superbowl game. This is where all the emotional upheaval about Peyton’s custody will be resolved; questions about who she wants to live with will be answered; we learn the truth about her background and her mother; we find out about whether Joe can even play in the game since he has been severely injured, and learn if there might be a future for him and Peyton’s here-to-for standoffish yet very hot ballet teacher Monica (Roselyn Sanchez; tv’s “Without a Trace”). In other words, don’t go to the bathroom in the last ten minutes of the movie or you’re going to miss everything. And this is just too cute to miss even if you can pretty much figure out the answers to everything thirty minutes or so before the movie even asks the questions you’ve just answered. But, hey, it’s The Rock and he sings Elvis. What more do you need?

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