B+ Sound A- Extras D+
starring Vin Diesel, Lauren Graham, Faith Ford, Brittany Snow
screenplay by Thomas Lennon & Robert Ben Garant
directed by Adam Shankman
by Bill Chambers Three months after failing to return kidnapped professor Howard Plummer (Tate Donovan) to safety, Special Ops lieutenant Shane Wolfe (Vin Diesel) is assigned to stay with the late scientist's family while their mother (Faith Ford) visits Switzerland with Shane's superior (Chris Potter) to claim the contents of Howard's safety deposit box. Professor Plummer was killed over a piece of software named G.H.O.S.T. (though not in the pantry with a candlestick) now believed to have been stashed somewhere in his home; when the snot-nosed kids--vain Zoe (Brittany Snow), surly Seth (Max Thieriot), precocious Lulu (Morgan York, also one of the Cheaper by the Dozen brats), and reaction-shot fodder Peter (Keegan & Logan Hoover) and Baby Tyler (Bo & Luke Vink (and with "The Dukes of Hazzard"'s impending renaissance, boy are those two in for a rude awakening at the start of school))--grease the stairwell to take out Shane, they end up driving away their German nanny (a typically misused Carol Kane) instead, forcing Shane into a more maternal role and leaving him little time to search for the computer program.
What had Shane done to earn the wrath of his charges, you ask? Why he...installed an alarm system! And gave them aliases! (This is actually the one remotely trenchant moment of the film, as Shane seems to believe that "Red One," "Red Baby," etc., betray more personality than suburban-exotic names like Zoe and Lulu.) And had the nerve to mistake Zoe's black-clad boyfriend for an intruder just because he's scaling the side of the house, Diabolik-style. It's so unfashionable to promote discipline that the "bad seed" archetype now constitutes the foundation of every boy and girl in American cinema. Shane should press charges and get these neo-Menendez Brothers shipped off to juvenile hall (they'd probably be safer there, anyway), but with the patience of a saint, he chauffeurs them to and from school, fills in as den mother to Lulu's Fireflies troop, teaches Zoe how to drive, learns the "Panda dance" that soothes the little'uns off to sleep, and steps up to the plate when the director (Scott Thompson, squandered) of Seth's play bolts. Any time Shane threatens to revolt, dead daddy is passive-aggressively invoked. As you can see, this is far more Raising Helen than it is Kindergarten Cop: Where the latter film's Kimble (Arnold Schwarzenegger) learns to lighten up over the course of teaching a kindergarten class in order to ensure the safety of a particular student, Shane is treated like Hattie McDaniel until his biological clock inexplicably starts ticking. Because a life unstifled by domesticity can hardly be called a life now, can it?
I realize this is The Pacifier and not Vera Drake, but how this film strains credulity smacks of contempt for a paying audience. When the psychotic vice principal (an embarrassing Brad Garrett) discovers a swastika armband in a newly-blonde Seth's locker, he logically presumes that the boy considers himself a neo-Nazi. Seth does not refute this, prompting Shane to tail him afterschool to his supersecret hangout: the local rep house, where he's rehearsing "The Sound of Music". Though I can't really understand why you'd prefer to let the superintendents of your education believe you to be a practising anti-Semite than tell them you're a drama geek, it's conceivable that director Adam Shankman* wanted to indulge the latent coming-out anxieties of this development (if pathetic that we feel silly speculating whether Shankman brings any of himself to the table, such is the impersonal nature of his filmmaking). But stationing three skinheads in Nazi regalia outside the theatre to nod in menacing approval as Seth enters reeks of condescension, as does the scene where Baby Tyler starts crying, whereupon Seth tells Shane, "You're gonna have to do the Panda dance or he won't stop... I'll write it down for you." Sure, this is in step with the master-servant dynamic established between the Plummers and Shane, but Seth getting off on Shane's dance, Jabba the Hutt-like (he even breaks out the popcorn), doesn't mesh with the new adolescent paradigm (marked as it is by an attendant obliviousness to his/her own lack of altruism), thus betraying Seth's blatant passing of the buck as crude foreshadowing. Perhaps trumping both of these inanities, Shane, thinking he's stumbled upon the MacGuffin (a DVD-ROM labelled "GHOST"), invites the Plummer siblings to gather 'round the laptop as though it were the family hearth and loads the disc. This potential breach of protocol does not signal character growth (awww, he trusts these kids enough to show them classified information), but rather a complete absence of conceptual integrity.
Diesel makes a valiant effort, but he hasn't built up the repertoire with which the comedy expects to harmonize. Much like Henry Fonda's treasonous entrance in Once Upon a Time in the West is a purely intellectual pleasure at this point, Kindergarten Cop won't be very funny to future generations, since much of its humour relies on the juxtaposition of Schwarzenegger's ephemerally iconic presence and the last place you'd expect to encounter it. Nevertheless, it's an inspired tactic in that it leaves the heavy-lifting to the audience. (It's theatre of anticipation.) Diesel's performance is the sound of one hand clapping; the closest The Pacifier comes to subversive casting is Lauren Graham as Diesel's chaste love interest--oh, the field day her repellent alter ego on "Gilmore girls" would have with that one! As co-screenwriters Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant are founding members of "The State," the hipster sketch-comedy troupe whose side-projects include the verisimiltudinous send-up of Meatballs and its ilk Wet Hot American Summer as well as the Lennon/Garant-created faux-reality show "Reno 911!", it occurs to me that their Hollywood output (in addition to The Pacifier, they've co-authored the similarly disreputable Taxi and Herbie: Fully Loaded) is probably intended as satire. But in order to mock junk cinema, you must become junk cinema--and so long as guys like Tim Story and Adam Shankman continue to take the helm, the nuances of these meta-texts will be lost to knee-jerk commercialism.
Disney issues The Pacifier on DVD in competing widescreen and fullscreen editions. We received the former for review, which presents the film in a lacklustre 2.40:1, 16x9-enhanced transfer; the Mouse House has come under fire in recent months for applying too much filtering and edge-enhancement to their live-action titles, and though The Pacifier certainly won't curb these complaints, the greatest shortcoming of the image is that it's missing an ineffable razzle-dazzle. Meanwhile, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio provides a nice platform for the action-movie simulacra and the unimaginative rest of it. Dialogue is, as we say, lamentably clear. On another track, Shankman, Lennon, and Garant team up for an unendurable feature-length commentary in which they do the asshole thing and pretty much MST3K the movie, something I liken to the Penguin in Batman Returns bragging that he "played this city like a harp from Hell." Say what you will about Oppenheimer, but at least he was remorseful.
Also on board the disc: five mercifully-brief deleted scenes (totalling 3 minutes), extraneous narrative bridges to a one; a 3-minute blooper reel that's funny whenever Shankman, et al are reduced to glorified Sears Portrait Studio photographers in trying to get the Hoover twins to sit still for the camera; two vacuous would-be hagiographies--"Brad Garrett: Unpacified" (4 mins.) and "On Set with Mr. Diesel: Action Hero/Nice Guy" (3 mins.), wherein Catch That Kid's Thieriot keeps it real, I suppose, by confessing to a preconceived notion of Diesel as a diva--and "Special Ops TV Commercials" (actually six commercials for The Pacifier), all filed under "Backstage Disney"; and "sneak peeks" at Chicken Little, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Ice Princess, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Aliens of the Deep, "According to Jim", and "Halloweentown Movies." The first four trailers also precede the main menu. Originally published: July 4, 2005.
*What did we ever do to Adam Shankman? That's the rhetorical question du jour. Shankman, who roosts at the Kenny Ortega end of the choreographer-turned-filmmaker spectrum, has spearheaded the most virulent campaign against cinema since the formation of Hollywood Pictures. (Remember the industry maxim "If it's the Sphinx, it stinks"?) The reason it's working--Shankman has two $100M hits under his belt--is that Shankman's propensity for setting mores back fifty years exploits pious America's appetite for so-called old-fashioned entertainment; one of the few openly gay directors in Hollywood, he really should be more averse to resurrecting hateful totems (the mammy uniform in Bringing Down the House, the Gestapo paraphernalia in The Pacifier), perpetuating conservative attitudes (A Walk to Remember), and fostering Boo Radley paranoia (The Pacifier, Bringing Down the House). I mean, it's one thing for the Plummers' Korean neighbours to have a hidden (read: terrorist) agenda, another altogether for them to be the only minorities we meet in The Pacifier. return