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Game Plan, The Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 April 2008
ImageSince leaving the World Wrestling Federation’s rings, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has done a reasonable job of establishing  a movie career for himself.  He parlayed his cameo in “The Mummy Returns” into a feature film release, “The Scorpion King” and secured his position in the Guinness Book of World Records when he got the highest first-time actor salary.  Since then, his earnings and the success of the films he’s been in have been up and down.  None of it seems to bother Johnson much, though, and he tends to roll with the punches.

The ring persona he crafted wasn’t always liked.  The first few roles he had in movies tended to focus on him being the hard guy or warrior type.  With his build, he draws that kind of role almost automatically.  “The Rundown” and “Walking Tall” bear that out.  But he stretched when he played a gay enforcer in “Be Cool”, an adaptation of a Chili Palmer novel by Elmore Leonard.  Then he returned to the trenches, on alien worlds in “Doom” and in “Gridiron Gang” when he coached troubled youths.

If someone had asked me, I would have admitted that I wouldn’t have figured Johnson would end up affiliated with Walt Disney Pictures or working in kid movies.  However, after seeing him in “The Game Plan”, it looks like he’s going to be fine there.  Johnson already has another Disney project in the works, a remake of “Escape from Witch Mountain”, and is in a guest-starring role in the remake of “Get Smart”. “The Game Plan” is a simple movie with a plot that parents and kids have been treated to over and over for years.  Basically the film features an estranged father/daughter and the trials and tribulations they have to go through in order to find a relationship.

Johnson plays NFL quarterback Joe Kingman, superstar of the (non-existent) Boston Rebels.  He’s the show when it comes to the game of football, and Joe isn’t shy about making sure other people know that.  His sports agent, Stella Peck (“The Closer’s” Kyra Sedgwick), works to ensure the focus stays on Joe as well.

Playing the role big and over-the-top comes naturally for Johnson.  Joe Kingman is an offshoot, to a degree, of the Rock character he played in the WWF.  But I have to wonder who paid him for all the Elvis exposure.  Kingman has a serious hang-up on the King of Rock & Roll, but that fits to a degree with his personality.  Fortunately, having Elvis be Kingman’s idol also guarantees a kicking musical score that is also  familiar.

I’ve liked Sedgwick in nearly everything I’ve seen her in, and I’m a big fan of “The Closer,” but she truly raised my ire in “The Game Plan.”  I didn’t like her character one little bit, which goes to show that she can act because I was predisposed to like her.  She faded in and out of the story a little too much, though, and I kept losing her.

Madison Pettis plays Peyton Kelly, the daughter Joe Kingman never knew he had.  Madison is one of the regulars on “Cory in the House” and is quite the scene stealer when she gets the chance.  The chemistry she has with Johnson, who must love kids in a big way and is tied very tightly with his own family, is a big plus in a movie that’s pretty much a recycling of every sugary plotline that’s ever been turned into a movie.

I loved watching Joe struggle to define his space with a daughter in the house.  As a father with five children, I know that you rarely own anything that’s yours after your kids decide they like it too.  The sudden changing channels during a big game is great because most fathers have been there when their young offspring figure out how the television remote works.  The soap bubble filled sauna is another dilemma most parents have had to deal with once kids figure out how to add bubble bath and turn the bath water on.

Even though Joe leads an extravagant lifestyle, it’s reassuring to see that even he is humbled by the presence of a child.  First, in bad ways because his life is turned upside down, then in good ways when he discovers how much he loves her and she loves him.

Roselyn Sanchez of “Without A Trace” plays Monique Vasquez, Peyton’s ballet teacher.  She’s beautiful to look at and has been a dancer for years, so she’s at once easy and natural in the role.  Sanchez and Johnson look good onscreen together, but the budding romance taking place between the two of them is kept deliberately on a low broil and doesn’t interfere with the main father/daughter dynamic.

I have to admit, the dog in the tutu was funny even after having seen it in all the trailers.  There was a lot of simple humor that the movie kept plugging away at and bringing back to the forefront again and again, and it works in a sappy way.  The allergies Joe has to cinnamon that makes his mouth and tongue swell up while he’s supposed to shoot a commercial is hilarious because Johnson pulls it off.

Even the cheesiest part of the movie, when Peyton eats peanut butter and goes into anaphylactic shock and Joe picks her up and RUNS all the way to the nearest hospital, plays out well.  After all, what father – if he could – wouldn’t run his dying daughter to the nearest emergency room?

The movie plays out exactly as most viewers will already have figure.  There’s no real substance here, nothing that’s going to change your life, but it’s still a decent show with some occasional bits of killer humor.  Since it returned, so far, nearly six times its budget, “The Game Plan” has been a roaring success for Walt Disney Pictures.

Visually, the picture is great and takes full advantage of the Blu-ray presentation.  Director Andy Fickman shoots a lot of scenes on the street and in the football stadium, so there’s a different look to the scenes away from Joe’s apartment.

The score is loaded with Elvis tunes, so the high definition treatment rocks the house when it pumps through the surround sound system.  It was hard not to turn the music up when it play, but then the conversations in the following scenes was way too loud.  The magic of Elvis’s music lives, especially in the special features sections when the cast and crew are seen dancing at different events and during rehearsal.

The special features section is loaded with fun, and the ESPN spoof is a riot for anyone that normally watches those programs.  The commentary and the featurettes just bear out how much fun everyone seemed to have while shooting on the set.

“The Game Plan” isn’t a life-altering movie, but it’s definitely one you can throw in the player and watch with the kids.  And they’ll probably watch it over and over again.  Thankfully the score is good enough that parents won’t mind too terribly much if the movie plays in the background for a few days or weeks.  The entertainment value is solid, and there’s a lot of replayability for the younger viewers.

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