October 1, 2007

Movie Review: The Game Plan

As I sit down to write this, I have witnessed the New York Mets complete the worst end of season collapse in Major League Baseball history. What does this have to do with my review of The Game Plan? Probably not much, but we got to witness a team with all the talent in the world fail to heed Joe Kingman's (Dwayne Johnson) catch phrase: "Never say no." This team stopped living that and said no to the dream some weeks ago, and it was a sad thing to watch. Beyond that, I need something to raise my spirits, something that can enter my mind and make me smile. The Game Plan does just that. This light-hearted family comedy succeeds where the Mets have failed on this final day of the season, make me smile and leave me with pleasant memories. As far as baseball goes, there is always next year. As for the movies, they never stop, every week brings more to watch and they will always bring a smile to my face.

The Game Plan is not a terribly original movie. It does not break any new ground or offer up anything surprising for the genre. The plot points, save for one, are all telegraphed early on. If you cannot see the direction it is heading in early on, you have likely not seen that many movies. Not that I am criticizing anyone if they don't, it is just that any veteran watcher will likely recognize the clichés of the genre and predict within a 95% likelihood just where it is going to end up.

Sort of sounds like I didn't care for the movie much, doesn't it? Well, sometimes what would appear to be criticism is exactly the opposite. It is a familiarity that works within the confines of the film. They say that familiarity breeds contempt; however, if you have the right ingredients you can change that feeling of contempt to something that more resembles respect. There is nothing wrong with making a film like this. The problems enter the picture when the creative team offer up little in the way of energy. Take a look at something like The Pacifier, the concept and execution was devoid of passion and energy. The end result was a flat bore. Sure, it filled a need, but it did not do it very well. Compare that with the similarly themed No Reservations from earlier this year. That film leaned more towards the romantic and dramatic than the straight up comedic, but it was created by people that had a passion for the story. The end result was something that had a lot of heart and delivered a story that hit home even if the originality was not there.

When making a genre picture, be it science fiction, horror, action, or family comedy, it can be tough not to fall within the traps. The Game Plan is no exception, it does not avoid the clichés, it doesn't even try to. What it does is embrace them. It embraces them and uses them to their advantage. They are capitalized on by the cast that is hired. In short, The Game Plan is nothing new, but it offers lots to smile about and will have you leaving the theater happy.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stars as Joe Kingman. He is an egotistical, self-centered football star who lives the life of a playboy. He always makes sure to watch himself on Sportscenter, and has a luxurious apartment plastered with photos of himself alongside posters of his hero, Elvis Presley. His life is thrown for a loop when an 8-year-old girl named Peyton (Maddison Pettis) arrives on his doorstep claiming to be his daughter. He struggles with the possibility that he really is her father, and then his publicist enters the picture. Her name is Stella (Kyra Sedgewick), and clearly not a mother. She comes in looking for a way to spin it in an effort of damage control to make her the most money by protecting her client.

The rest of the film follows the slapstick exploits of Joe trying to play father and Peyton trying to be his daughter. There are gags involving a bedazzler, putting Joe's bulldog in a tutu, and a cinnamon allergy. Not all of them work, some go on too long, but by and large they work. They probably work as well as they do due to the cast.

It is my belief that Dwayne Johnson (sans "The Rock") will be a big star. He just needs that one killer role to put him over the top. I doubt this will be that role, but it does go a long way to prove his versatility (something that is really evidenced by his complete filmography). He has already proven that he can anchor an action film (The Rundown), stand out in a comedy (Be Cool), and lead a more dramatic film (Gridiron Gang). The Game Plan plays off his excellent comic timing, and high level of charisma and screen presence, not to mention his willingness to poke fun at his macho image. He has all the tools needed to succeed. There are a few moments in this film where he is able to convey some surprising depth with Joe Kingman. I am thinking specifically of a scene early on. A party in his apartment is dying down, and he says something to a teammate, played by Morris Chestnut, about having a life. Chestnut responds that family is life and, gesturing around the bachelor pad, that is not life. This is followed by Joe sitting down in the middle of an empty apartment, surrounded by his own memorabilia. It is a quiet moment that reveals much about Kingman, the movie in general, and about Johnson's ability to pull of something of such depth in the midst of a cliched family comedy.

Now, Johnson is not alone in making this as enjoyable as it (although he is a big reason). Maddison Pettis as the precocious youngster. She perfectly fills the cute role, displaying some good comic timing of her own. It doesn't hurt that she, and the rest of the cast appear to have had a great time on set. She may be the smallest of the cast, but she more than holds her own. The supporting cast is all good as well,m including Sedgewick and Chestnut. Joining that pair is Roselyn Sanchez as Peyton's ballet instructor and romantic interest for Joe. This is a nice point as it is clear the two are meant to couple up, but it is subtle, much moreso than you would expect for this type of movie. There are even some big laughs to be had with Joe's teammates played by Hayes MacArthur, Brian White, and Jamal Duff.

Bottomline. Now, The Game Plan is not going to win any awards and is likely to be forgotten by many, but it definitely put a smile on my face. It delivers laughs and has a good heart. This is worth spending some of your time with, particularly if you have children. The Game Plan is one of the better family films to arrive this year.



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