by Mel Valentin
In less than a decade, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has successfully transitioned from a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) superstar into an action star, beginning with a small role in "The Mummy Returns," then moving on to a starring role set in the same universe, "The Scorpion King," a contemporary action-comedy a year later, "The Rundown," that took advantage of his physical skills, a middling remake of an exploitation action-drama, "Walking Tall," a squad leader in a videogame adaptation, "Doom," and on through to a gig as a mentor/football coach in "Gridiron Gang." Johnson’s latest bid for commercial success, "The Game Plan," is a derivative, clichéd, family-oriented sports comedy that'll probably score at the box office, but won't do much for Johnson's reputation.Joe Kingman (Johnson), the starting quarterback for the Boston Rebels (the New England Patriots refused to have their name or brand used), has everything a multi-millionaire professional athlete could want, a bachelor pad decked out with high-end tech gear, supermodel girlfriends, easy-money endorsement deals, and an adoring public. What Kingman doesn’t have is a league championship and the window of opportunity to win one is closing fast. Kingman’s me-first attitude on the playing field, however, makes it difficult for his teammates and friends, Travis Sanders (Morris Chestnut), Kyle Cooper (Hayes MacArthur), Jamal Webber (Brian White), and Clarence Monroe (Jamal Duff) to rally around him. The Rebels, however, are just good enough to qualify for the playoffs.
"A kinder, gentler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson."
A little girl, Peyton Kelly (Madison Pettis), shows up at Kingman’s penthouse suite, claiming to be the long-lost daughter. Doubtful at first, Kingman comes around when Peyton shows him documentary evidence (e.g., photos, birth certificate). It turns out Kingman married straight out of college. It didn’t work out. She left. He didn’t know she was pregnant (of course he didn’t). Kingman’s agent, Stella Peck (a slumming Kyra Sedgwick), sees additional endorsements deals in Kingman’s future now that he’s more family friendly. Of course, Kingman doesn’t have a clue about raising an eight year-old girl. Luckily for Kingman, Peyton is your typical Disney moppet: she’s precocious, she’s smart, and she’s into all the things girls her age are expected to like (e.g., ballet). Kingman signs Peyton up with a private ballet school run by Monique Vasquez (Roselyn Sanchez), who becomes the obligatory love interest in short order.
The Game Plan begins to go wrong the moment Peyton’s introduced. Kingman barely resists, barely makes an effort to verify her story. The excuse given, that Kingman will receive bad publicity and, thus, lose some of his endorsement deals, doesn’t pass muster, at least not in the real world where having children out of wedlock does little to impact a star athlete’s earning potential. To make matters worse, The Game Plan indulges in obvious gender stereotypes. Girls like ballet and pink tutus. Boys and men are into sports, especially hard-hitting contact sports. To become a better dad, Kingman has to learn to think and act less selfishly, culminating in a ballet performance where he plays a tree. In other words, Kingman sacrifices his masculinity to get closer to his daughter and his romantic interest, and becomes the butt of jokes from his teammates. He also becomes a less-selfish player.Ultimately, "The Game Plan" is the “perfect” family movie, one in which a star athlete learns humility, compassion, love and respect, gains a loving daughter, a monogamous relationship (and marriage down the line), and performs up to expectations during the championship game. It’s also simplistic, unrealistic, manipulative, and contrived. What "The Game Plan" bodes for Johnson’s career, however, is another matter. Johnson seems to be willing to trade in his action-star cred for greater marketability and, of course, bigger paychecks. While we can’t fault Johnson for attempting to expand his audience beyond his core group of fans, those same fans are bound to be perplexed and maybe even annoyed with "The Game Plan." The family movie’s gain, alas, is definitely the action genre’s loss.
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originally posted: 02/28/08 09:00:00