By David Germain
Like Vin Diesel’s “The Pacifier,” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s “The Game Plan” aims to turn an action-movie bruiser into a benign father figure.
And the same as Diesel, Johnson manages enough charisma to overcome an often awkward performance and at least provide a likable anchor for this lazily plotted, vacuously predictable tale of an egomaniacal football star dealing with a daughter he never knew he had.
It’s the second football flick in a row for Johnson, who played college ball before turning pro wrestler. Coming on the heels of the teen-oriented drama “Gridiron Gang,” “The Game Plan” looks like the next calculated step to broaden Johnson’s appeal to include every person on the planet.
The big guy who got his big-screen break as Mathayus the Scorpion King in 2001’s “The Mummy Returns” and its spinoff “The Scorpion King” now has another regal moniker, Joe “The King” Kingman, superstar quarterback of the Boston Rebels (and for some reason, the substitution of fake pro football teams for the real thing is particularly cloying here, despite the presence of some real National Football League players and commentators such as Boomer Esiason and Marv Albert).
The vainglorious Joe is fond of telling fans, teammates and the media that he’s No. 1 on the field and No. 1 in their hearts. He’s on the last leg of his drive to win the championship that has eluded his team, he’s a swinging ladies man, he’s got all the stuff he thinks he ever wanted, from a hot sports car to an apartment filled with memorabilia of his musical idol, Elvis Presley (another King, get it?).
He’s also got an 8-year-old daughter he knew nothing about from a brief marriage in his youth. Little spitfire Peyton (Madison Pettis) shows up at Joe’s door one day saying she needs to bunk with him for a month while her mom’s in Africa doing humanitarian work.
Director Andy Fickman (“She’s the Man”) and screenwriters Nichole Millard and Kathryn Price deliver a prolonged series of klutzy, inept dad gags and scenarios, all leading to the inevitable warm fuzzies you knew were coming before you walked in the theater.
Finally, we get the chance to watch The Rock coo “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” then dance with little girls in tutus to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky.”
Both Johnson and Pettis are annoying in their own ways early on, he from a fairly graceless impersonation of a man impossibly full of himself, she from a nasally shrillness that creeps into her know-it-all demeanor.
To their credit, they become richer, more personable characters as they warm up to each other, though that could be a viewer’s brain synapses dozing off as the vapidity deepens.
It’s certainly a goodhearted story, and the movie does offer a little plot twist that deviates from the usual formula. After that, though, “The Game Plan” quickly reverts to the established playbook for safe, sappy family fare.