1½ stars (out of 4)
Vin Diesel tries to follow in the "Kindergarten Cop" footsteps of Arnold Schwarzenegger in "The Pacifier," and the Governator has nothing to worry aboutat least on the movie front. A dopey Disney Pictures family comedy about a muscle-bound action hero bonding with adorable children in a sunny suburb, while battling bad guys and a worse script, "The Pacifier" is cheerful but mind-numbing.
Diesel, star of "The Fast and the Furious" and "XXX," strains so hard to be cute and cuddly that he sometimes resembles a bald teddy bear on steroids. But the only thing "Pacifier" really accomplishes is to make Schwarzenegger's saccharine "Cop" look good by comparison.
That's no mean achievement. Master commercial moviemaker Howard Hawks used to define bad movies as ones that annoyed you, and this one is pretty annoying: formulaically written, blandly directed and acted by a troupe of talented performers including Brad Garrett, Carol Kane and perky "Gilmore" girl Lauren Grahamall operating at half-speed.
At the center is Diesel, doing a comic riff on his action movie roles as Shane Wolfe, a rugged Navy Seal who fails on a mission, sees an important scientist, Howard Plummer (Tate Donovan), killed and, months later, is assigned to babysit the dead man's five children while widow Julie Plummer ("Hope & Faith's" Faith Ford) is spirited elsewhere for a while.
Much like the obnoxious children in the recent Ice Cube comedy "Are We There Yet?" (which also looks good by comparison), the kids here are an initially insufferable bunch who drive Shane crazy until he starts losing his heart and head to the holy terrors turned honey-bunnies. Soon he's beaming with joy, helping out with school problems, throwing out oldest Zoe's (Brittany Snow) bad boyfriend and beating the bullying wrestling coach/vice principal Murney (Garrett), who's been picking on Seth (Max Thieriot).
This stoic loner, a pussycat at last, also begins to find what may be true love, or at least a movie crush, on comely school principal Claire Fletcher (Graham).
Have we left out any cliches? Of course. How about the redemptive production of "The Sound of Music," where young Seth begins to find himself? What about the last-minute cutie-pie battle royale between Shane and the adult villains? What about Shane barking orders to the kids as if they were the recruits in "Full Metal Jacket?"
There's nothing remotely convincing about any of this, but, even worse, there's nothing very funny about it eitherunless you're amused at the thought of Garrett prancing around in a Spandex wrestling suit, Kane playing Romanian nanny Helga with a Countess Dracula accent, the pet duck jokes or the sight of Diesel racing around with toddlers strapped to him fore and aft.
"The Pacifier" is a by-the-numbers movie made with technical skill but without much sense of amusement, full of lame gags and shopworn ideas. It's a family movie in a dubious sense of the term, a film that suggests, maybe unwittingly, that families are ridiculous and modern children arrogant and selfishand that the only way they'll get into line is if they're scared straight by a hard-case Navy Seal.
Director Adam Shankman, who made "The Wedding Planner" and "Bringing Down the House," is no stranger to big, bad, popular movies, and neither are writers Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant ("Starsky & Hutch"). Maybe they need a few Navy Seals to whip them into shape.
Directed by Adam Shankman; written by Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant; photographed by Peter James; edited by Christopher Greenbury; production designed by Linda DeScenna; music by John Debney; produced by Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber, Jonathan Glickman. A Walt Disney Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:37. MPAA rating: PG (for action violence, language and rude humor).
Shane Wolfe - Vin DieselPrincipal Fletcher - Lauren GrahamJulie Plummer - Faith FordZoe - Brittany SnowSeth - Max ThieriotHelga - Carol KaneVice Principal Murney - Brad GarrettCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times