|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 28 June 2005|
“The Pacifier” was written by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant as a vehicle for Jackie Chan. If Chan, who has a light comedic touch, had starred, the movie would most likely have been a lot more entertaining than it is. Of course, Adam Shankman probably still would have directed, so all bets are off. Shankman has no discernible style, no signs of skill at comedy; “The Pacifier” looks very much like an expanded episode of a fairly dull and ordinary sitcom.
Chan was replaced, though not satisfactorily, by Vin Diesel, who probably presumed this was his “Kindergarten Cop.” Aim for the stars, Vin. “Kindergarten Cop” worked, insofar as it did at all, largely because of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s outsized personality and slight skill at frantic comedy. Diesel is about as likeable as an ingrown toenail. He has no sense of timing, no concept of how or why comedy scenes are different from dramatic scenes. He approaches everything with the same intensity and usually the same scowl. This works in some films—he’s very good in “The Fast and the Furious” and “Pitch Black;” he did good supporting-actor work in “Boiler Room” had provided a surprisingly tender and evocative voice for “The Iron Giant.” But a comic he’s not.
Here he’s veteran Navy SEAL Shane Wolfe, engaged as the movie opens in a furious rescue at sea, complete with explosions and gunfire. But the man he rescues is gunned down anyway and Wolfe is left wounded. When he recovers, Capt. Bill Fawcett (Chris Potter) tells him that the all-important computer program GHOST (or some McGuffin called GHOST) must still be where the dead man hid it. It’s Wolfe’s job to track it down—and to protect the dead man’s family.
Since GHOST is probably hidden in the dead man’s home, Wolfe is sent there. But Julie Plummer (Faith Ford), the widow, has to head for Switzerland with Fawcett to see if GHOST is in her late husband’s safety deposit box. Although he’s a career military type as his (disliked) father was before him, and knows—and cares—nothing about kids, he’s left in charge of the five Plummer children: teenagers Zoe (Brittany Snow) and Seth (Max Thieriot), younger Lulu (Morgan York), toddler Peter and infant Tyler. He has to keep them in line and protect them from possible assassins while doing his best to locate GHOST. (An expected gag occurs: a disc he finds labeled GHOST turns out to be a movie with Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg.)
This would seem to be enough complications for an ordinary movie, but this is a frantic slapstick comedy, so the ante goes up damned fast. Wolfe doesn’t like the kids and the kids don’t like him; neither does their pet duck. (A pet DUCK? And a mallard at that. Gimme a break.) The kids are not doing well at school because—because-- well, this is left hanging. Maybe because their dad was killed. (They are never depicted facing up to this fact.) Maybe because he was away a lot. We’re not supposed to think their mother, seen occasionally in Switzerland trying to solve the deposit box password, is a dingbat. So why are the kids so fouled up?
So Wolfe can set them right, of course. No other reason. And naturally, as he does so, it helps and changes him as much as it helps and changes them. Altogether now: awwwww…..! But the script is badly organized. Wolfe and the kids are at loggerheads until the point is reached that they are not supposed to be at loggerheads, so they aren’t. There’s no transition, no motivation for the change. It just happens.
It’s like Carol Kane. She plays the foreign nanny who abruptly leaves when she gets sufficiently pissed off at Wolfe. But because she HAS to leave for the awwww….! effect to take place, she has to be depicted as actually disliking the children. Which brings us back to viewing the mother as such a dingbat she never noticed that the nanny hated the kids.
Brad Garrett is given a large (ha ha) and colorful role as some kind of official at the nearby high school. He targets Seth for a lot of scorn because of his ineptitude at wrestling. He’s also contemptuous of Wolfe, who barely seems to notice him, and has his eyes on principal Claire (Lauren Graham)—but she’s drawn, somewhat inexplicably, to Wolfe. Whenever the director gets tired of stuff in the home, he cuts to stuff at school. There’s no sense of comic rhythm or timing; we’re just here, now we’re there.
This is not to say there are no laughs to be had from “The Pacifier.” It’s fairly funny from time to time, but the insistence on crude humor is wearying. There are a LOT of baby poop jokes, and quite a few fart and barf jokes, too. This is cheap, vulgar humor; cheap, vulgar humor can, of course, be pretty damned funny, but here it has an air of desperation AND reliance on rote elements. The thinking clearly was there’s a baby, so there has to be a lot of dirty diaper jokes. And the reverse, too: we want a lot of dirty diaper jokes, so we add a baby. Oh, puhleeze.
The director is clumsy. To suggest that someone is spying on the house we see hand-held shots through shrubbery—even though for one such shot, the shrubbery would have to be growing in the middle of the street. Shankman (“Bringing Down the House”) is a onesy-twosy-threesy by the book director, not an imaginative man at all. If you doubt this, all you have to do is listen to some of his commentary track; it’s not likely that anyone—even those who liked “The Pacifier” (and it was reasonably popular)—could sit through the whole thing.
In the commentary track, Shankman points out some of the reshoots felt necessary after principal photography. I suspect that the climax, set in a preposterously vast underground chamber beneath the family garage, may have been a reshoot, too, since it doesn’t make much sense. Why does this guy have such a colossal, booby-trapped room to protect one specific item? How did he BUILD such a fortress?
There are too many elements added to generate the awwww! effect, such as a trivial song Diesel is forced to sing to get the toddler to fall asleep. It’s a lousy song, a lousy dance, and feeds into a lousy, utterly unconvincing twist. It’s there so Diesel can look adorably silly as he hops around singing nonsense lines. On the other hand, when the toddler calls him “daddy,” Diesel’s reaction is genuinely touching. However, his sudden expertise at directed stage musicals is mystifying.
There’s one swift bout of martial arts stuff, evidently left over from when Jackie Chan was to have been the lead. A couple of mysterious ninjas burst into the house and they and Diesel beat the crap out of each other. Of course finally the mother comes home, there’s a twist or two, and at the end, it looks like Wolfe will be cuddling up with the principal.
The extras are the standard sort of thing. One of the short documentaries focuses on Brad Garrett, who’s pretty amusing; the other deals with Vin Diesel’s relationship with the infants in the cast. Something else designed for that damned awwww! effect. On the commentary track, the writers and director sure amuse the hell out of one another, but their reluctance to say anything even faintly critical of Vin Diesel begins to seem more than a little creepy.
Actually, the title is appropriate: “The Pacifier” will quiet down a noisy room in nothing flat. It’s not especially funny, it’s not especially interesting. It may have done reasonably well in theaters, but there are a lot of movies that do that. This is for the curious only.