½*/**** Image A Sound A Extras B-
starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Kyra Sedgwick, Morris Chestnut, Roselyn Sanchez
screenplay by Nichole Millard & Kathryn Price
directed by Andy Fickman
by Bill Chambers Maudlin trash, The Game Plan makes The Pacifier--one of the prototypes for this slop--look like No Country for Old Men. Again we have a beefcake bachelor (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) in a macho profession (football) learning to stop worrying and love the Devil's spawn. The Rock plays star quarterback Joe "The King" Kingman, whose cushy, Elvis-accessorized lifestyle is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a little girl claiming to be his long lost daughter. Named Peyton (not after Peyton Manning or Walter Payton, as a leatherhead would hope, but Nobel Prize-winning M.D. Peyton Rous--an early herald of her precocious pretentiousness), she invites herself to stay for a month while her mother ostensibly does philanthropic work in Africa. In the meantime, Mother or some facsimile is fed the lie that Peyton is away at ballet camp (in January?! The film opens on New Year's Eve), and Joe becomes a pawn in maintaining this illusion by striking a Faustian bargain with Mater Suspiriorium, er, Monique Vasquez (Roselyn Sanchez), the compulsory love interest and gatekeeper of the local prestigious dance academy. (The Game Plan takes place in a Boston so generic it may as well be Metropolis.) Ingratiating herself with Joe's clownish team-mates (no "Playmakers"-style conflicts for these guys), if not his pragmatic--and flatulent!--agent (Kyra Sedgwick, of all people), Peyton ultimately, predictably, succeeds in her kamikaze campaign to be crowned "the best thing that ever happened" to Joe.
Allow me to cite my affection for Clint Eastwood's A Perfect World and, to a lesser extent, Terry Zwigoff's Bad Santa as proof that I have nothing against The Game Plan's basic premise. Although I find the idea that anyone can be a father profoundly disturbing, I find the idea that a no-good bum could turn out to be a good father profoundly moving in its optimism, while the fantasy of becoming an insta-parent has for whatever reason remained a durable Hollywood fairytale--if often a grim one with Frankenstein overtones--since Chaplin first tapped it for comedy and pathos with The Kid. The reason this evergreen doesn't thrive in The Game Plan has a lot to do with Peyton and the actress who plays her, one Madison Pettis, a cloying, robotic stage kid running on Shirley Temple's operating system. She's both the epitome and a satire of Disney livestock, and seemingly, chillingly incapable of an authentic human expression. There's a scene where she draws a bath (yep, it's that old chestnut where too much soap causes a mudslide of bubbles) but, crucially, never gets in, presumably because water would cause Pettis to short-circuit. I know it's taboo to pick on young performers (not that social custom prevented the Dakota Fanning backlash), but in a world with Dillon Freasier or even Abigail Breslin, there's simply no excuse for a Madison Pettis.
Of course, it's not entirely Pettis's fault. The character as written has an insufferable sense of entitlement, and the movie is so exasperatingly on her side that a certain abrasiveness comes built into the role. It's one thing to know your audience, another altogether to deify them; The Game Plan is basically that episode of "The Twilight Zone" ("It's a Good Life") with the kid whose ability to wish people away to a cornfield purgatory holds everyone in his orbit psychic hostage--minus the supernaturalism and the moral compass of Rod Serling's omniscient perspective. Peyton shows zero respect for either Joe's boundaries (she cock-blocks Joe's date with a supermodel) or his personal property (she bedazzles his MVP football...'nuff said), and no commensurate punishment is ever forthcoming. The Game Plan could be a prequel to a Larry Clark film (any one, take your pick) in its example of lax authority, which breeds the juvenile delinquents of tomorrow. Only the aforementioned supermodel (Kate Nauta) has the good sense to call a brat a brat, and this gets her jettisoned from the film posthaste. (In a deleted scene on the Blu-ray disc, she's first splattered with tiramisu--the wrath of Peyton.) Granted, Joe does makes the odd parenting overture, but he's invariably humbled in his attempts to discipline her by withering glares from bystanders.
That's really the final nail in the movie's coffin. Ghost-written by the abominable Audrey Wells, who effectively gave birth to this particular strain of family comedy with her screenplay for the Bruce Willis vehicle The Kid, The Game Plan describes, nay, comes to emblematize our nauseating culture of mommy-worship. Culminating in his donning of a unitard to perform in a ballet recital, the constant humiliation of Joe lays bare the film's disinterest in the potential of his physically imposing presence to keep Peyton in line, or whatever wisdom he has accrued that might be passed down as fatherly advice (the sports homilies don't count). This isn't a story about a man becoming a dad--it's about the relentless emasculation, however comic, of a man until he assumes a maternal role. (Indeed, until he can fill the position left vacant by his ex-wife's death.) When, at the end of the picture, Joe gratuitously turns down a twenty-five million dollar offer to say "I'm going to Fanny's Burgers!" so as not to contradict the disapproving opinion of fast food Peyton has parroted from her late mother, it marks the completion of his transformation. The King is dead. Long live the queen.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Buena Vista presents The Game Plan on BD in a disproportionately good 2.40:1, 1080p transfer. The razor-fine detail produces an image of startling depth, and while the colours aren't that appealing, they're very obviously accurate. Meanwhile, the D-BOX-enhanced 5.1 audio, configured for Dolby Digital and PCM uncompressed playback (the latter unsampled by yours truly), is technically unimpeachable, though the mix itself is unexceptional. Exclusive to Blu-ray is "Chalk Talk," an affable commentary teaming The Rock and director Andy Fickman, who not only employ a telestrator to draw football plays on the screen but also pause the movie intermittently, bringing its running time up to just over two hours. Vastly preferable to the film's actual soundtrack, their rap session is nonetheless vacuous and eventually tedious, what with all the stopping and starting. Taking root in the yakker, a running gag that Fickman is often mistaken for The Rock pays off in Fickman's optional intros to a selection of 12 surprisingly lengthy yet no less superfluous deleted scenes, wherein we see that he's the DeVito to Johnson's Schwarzenegger. For what it's worth, Fickman's neighbourly demeanour starts to seem more than a tad disingenuous here as he invites the folks at home to go to their CD collection and "direct" a passage lacking music.
Also on board: a Marv Albert-narrated, dedicatedly unfunny blooper reel (3 mins.); "Drafting The Game Plan" (20 mins.), a making-of in which we learn The Rock initiated the project by soliciting something along the lines of Miracle or The Rookie, only to be swindled by two tyro screenwriters with their own agenda; "Peyton's Makeover Madness," a BD-Java feature that lets you redecorate Joe's apartment in the persona of the Bad Seed; an expanded version (5 mins.) of the mock "ESPN Sportscenter" report on Joe Kingman (another BD-exclusive) briefly excerpted in the movie proper; and a real ESPN piece--as well as the lone supplement not in HD--on The Rock's training regimen for The Game Plan (3 mins.). (Did you know he played college football?) Blu-ray propaganda plus Hi-Def trailers for Sleeping Beauty, Wall-E, and Enchanted cue up on startup. Originally published: January 25, 2008.