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Alex Stroup, editor

The Pacifier

New Disney release pits action hero Vin Diesel against dirty diapers

Friday, March 4, 2005
by Alex Stroup, MousePlanet editor

Let's start this review with a bit of a homework assignment for the reader.

Go to your typewriter (a more visually dramatic scene than using a computer) and write a screenplay about a guy who is used to authority, structure, rigid codes of behavior, and some violence. Now write a fish-out-of-water story in which he is put in charge of people oblivious to all of these things.

What did you write? OK, there's a good chance you wrote a story about a grizzled Texas sheriff who finds himself protecting a group of irrepressible college cheerleaders. But that movie hit theaters last weekend. So let's focus on coming up with something completely original. How about a grizzled Navy S.E.A.L. who finds himself protecting a family of five irrepressible children? Now, write that script. Odds are that with the exception of ninjas and a pet duck, your script would completely replicate The Pacifier. The story is thoroughly formulaic. That said, it is also completely unobjectionable, and how much you enjoy it will depend on how much you enjoy the formula.


© Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

Fish-out-of-water stories have a lot of built-in appeal since we all know the discomfort of being in a new situation, particularly for children when almost every situation is new. They also allow for an unusually kind type of humor. Taking a person out of his element means fun can be had at the expense of various people without meanness, and you honestly can laugh with the characters rather than at them.

All of this makes the genre particularly amenable to family entertainment, and with the exception of an opening action sequence, director Adam Shankman keeps things safely within the range of all ages. Guns are drawn but not fired, swords are sticks, and though nobody really does, you expect the characters to walk around saying “gosh darnit.” Even if this type of movie isn't for you (and it won't be for most people over the age of 12) it does have the requisite scatological bits to keep the young boys laughing.

Acknowledging that formula and familiarity are not necessarily bad things The Pacifier still has several weaknesses that will keep this in the realm of children's entertainment. The movie is not long on logical plausibility, which is hardly unexpected; it is the kind of movie where someone can throw three grenades and get six explostions. Another more minor element that really bothered me was what I think of as “sitcom lighting.” Every scene is completely and thoroughly lit, giving the whole thing a made-for-TV feeling that doesn't make something a bad movie but does make me wonder why I went to all the trouble of leaving the house.

The biggest fault though is that Vin Diesel somehow never sells himself as a Navy S.E.A.L. Somehow when surrounded by children, Faith Ford, and Lauren Graham, he actually seems smaller than he is. His efforts to project authority are so over-the-top that I rejected it outright. At the same time the movie was playing up his musculature—one of the movies better lines has a 10-year-old girl asking if one day she'll have “boobs” as big as his—I was wondering how it was possible that Brittany Snow (Zoe Plummer, the oldest child under his watch, best known from the television show American Dreams) seemed his equal in stature.

Among the children Diesel's Shane Wolfe ends up protecting, the standout is 10-year-old Lulu, played by Morgan York. She reminded me somewhat of a six-year-old Macauley Culkin, or more recently, Dakota Fanning, in her ability to look adults in the eye and hold those precious movie conversations while still seeming childlike. The younger two children are too young for active involvement and are more props than people.

Disney family movies have always provided a tame representation of teenage rebellion, but it is taken to absurd lengths in The Pacifier. Having recently lost their father, it is understandable that the older children are having some behavioral problems that manifest themselves by skipping drivers' ed or sneaking a boyfriend into the house. The second oldest, Seth (Max Thieriot), lashes out by… well, I can't quite revealing what he did, but let's just say that any parent of a teenager would love if their child lashed out so nicely.

Lauren Graham and Brad Garrett also appear as principal and vice-principal of the kids' school and provide the romance and conflict the script you wrote would require. A subplot involving the kids' principal (Lauren Graham) and vice-principal (Brad Garrett) provide the requisite romance and conflict though they're hardly noteworthy performances with Garrett in particular overplaying. It also plays to the logical plausibility problem mentioned before that Bethesda, Maryland—an area with more than 50,000 people—apparently has a single school for all grade levels. The presence of Faith Ford only reinforces the feeling of watching a TV movie. And out of respect for her past work, I won't even mention Carol Kane's presence.

The Pacifier really isn't a movie that many adults are going to enjoy. It is, though, a movie that a lot of parents will enjoy watching with their children. It is pretty stupid, overacted, and completely predictable—but parents won't have to cover eyes or ears or explain later any touchy issues (well, parents may have to explain why Vin Diesel has big boobs).


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Alex here.


MOVIE DETAILS

The Pacifier is a Walt Disney Pictures release

Wide theatrical release: Friday, March 4, 2005

Directed by Adam Shankman.

Screenplay by Thomas Lennon and Ben Garat.

Starring: Vin Diesel, Faith Ford, Lauren Graham, Brad Garrett, Brittany Snow, Max Thieriot, Morgan York

Rated PG for action violence, language, and rude humor.

Running time: 91 minutes

Alex's Rating: 5 out of 10

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted “information junkie,” Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.

Click here to contact Alex.

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