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Game Plan, The Movie Review

originally posted many years ago

With The Game Plan, former professional wrestler The Rock, or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, as he's calling himself these days (apparently trying to break away from the persona/business that made him famous), gets to take on a starring role that doesn't involve guns and fighting. Instead, he stretches his comic muscles, which, as anyone who saw him on "Saturday Night Live" years ago knows, are pretty strong. There's nothing wrong with Johnson. He's tough, funny, and charming in his modesty about his appeal; he seems genuinely humble while also giving off an air of complete confidence. As far as wrestlers-turned-actors go, he's at the top of the list. His one flaw is that he has a terrible streak of choosing poor scripts, and his greatest attribute as a movie star is that he can actually elevate those bad projects simply by being in them. Hence is the case with The Game Plan, which should be dismissed entirely as cutesy, formulaic, sentimental drivel about a man who learns to be a real man by meeting his daughter but cannot be so easily written off without a second thought because Johnson is so charismatic in it.

Johnson plays Joe Kingman, star quarterback for the Boston Rebels who has just led his team into the playoffs with a last-second run for touchdown, albeit one that ignored his wide-open teammate. There's a party afterwards at his snazzy bachelor pad, complete with football and Elvis paraphernalia, a giant photograph of himself on the wall, and a walk-in closet full of presents for each of visiting girlfriends. One of his teammates with a wife and children at home, though, isn't convinced Joe's life is really living, and after all his buddies have left, Joe is left alone in his apartment (cue music). The next morning, Joe has a visitor-a cute girl, the doorman says. Turns out, it's eight-year-old Peyton (Madison Pettis), who drops a bomb on the athlete: She's his daughter. She even has her birth certificate with his name on it to prove it. Her mother, his ex-wife, is on a humanitarian trip to Africa and needs Joe to watch Peyton for a month. His agent Stella (Kyra Sedgwick) interrogates the girl and advises Joe that this is the worst possible time for this to spring up, considering his upcoming contract negotiation, but Joe won't hear any of it.

So Peyton gets to meet the team. There's Sanders (Morris Chestnut), the family man who gets to use Joe's line about family taking away someone's "man card" against him now. There's Cooper (Hayes MacArthur), the dumb one who wonders how he can get his own man card and calls things stupid, prompting Peyton to tell him that stupid is a mean word. [PAGEBREAK] There's Monroe (Jamal Duff), the big guy with the deep, imposing voice, and Webber (Brian White), who's the nondescript one. Need I tell you that Peyton's presence confuses and amuses the team at first? Need I mention that she learns the basics of football and is taken under the wing of the entire team? Do I even bother saying that Peyton begins to teach them all, especially her father, something about the nicer, sweeter things, like ballet and the importance of rhinestone accessorizing? The big guy cries right on cue at the end of her and Joe's ballet performance, the dumb one scolds an opposing player for using the word stupid, and the nondescript one stays in the background.

It's all expected, and screenwriters Nichole Millard and Kathryn Price don't fail to get all those predictable moments in. There's also a love interest in the form of Peyton's ballet teacher Monique (Roselyn Sanchez), who convinces Joe to take time out of his busy playoff schedule to rehearse for and participate in the recital as a tree. Joe is skeptical of ballet at first, but after a draining practice that leaves him winded and sweating, he admires the athleticism involved, although he's not a fan of the tights. There's conflict as Joe accidentally leaves his daughter at a bar, the truth about Peyton's mother's trip to Africa surfaces, and the big game inches closer, and it's nothing we don't expect or see coming from the start. Johnson pulls off the role with charm and surprising vulnerability, and the relationship between Joe and Peyton, as hackneyed as it starts and as cloying and unlikely as it ends, is occasionally touching, especially during a fight when Joe realizes how much his daughter is like her mother and their reconciliation soon after. The whole thing is too trite for the material to really be affecting, but there are moments.

Johnson carries the movie, but the weight of The Game Plan is too much. Here's yet another project that shows his potential, but he's still a movie star waiting in the wings for a star vehicle to really let him show what he has.

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