Directed by Andy Fickman
Written by Nichole Millard & Kathryn Price
The Disney engine strikes again with an early Dwayne Johnson vehicle. Strikes again? Strikes again how? Disney offerings have been a mixed bag thus far, and that mix continues with 2007’s The Game Plan. Remember the Titans was a little cheesy, but really entertaining and carried by Denzel Washington’s central performance. Invincible was a little more mediocre with little to do, say or excite. Standard underdog fare. So getting to The Game Plan, I think we’ve found the worst of the Disney offerings. But what might be the most bizarre thing about this film is the jarring change of direction for Dwayne Johnson from the rough and realistic Gridiron Gang to the sugary, slapstick of this film. It is hard to separate the films from each other in my mind, which makes the experience all the more trippy.
Joe Kingman (Dwayne Johnson) is the star quarterback for the Boston Rebels. A big, physical player who has a knack for putting the team on his back and carrying them to victory. But his one weak point is playoff results. He has failed to secure that elusive championship. He loves himself and living that bachelor life, that is until the daughter he never knew he had (Madison Pettis) shows up at his door, claiming his mother dropped her off for Joe to watch for a month while she went to Africa for work. Joe begrudgingly forms a relationship with the little girl, taking her to ballet, despite the change in lifestyle. Soon, Joe finds that having a daughter means more to him than anything, as the Rebels march toward that elusive championship.
Let’s start with Dwayne Johnson, because he has become a major movie star since this film. He is definitely playing against character here in a silly, childish, and quite frankly dumb movie. But he plays it well due to his undeniable charisma. But the character of Joe Kingman is a little odd. Dwayne Johnson as a QB? Well, I guess he’s just sorta the Cam Newton of his era, even donning the #1 (with the cheesy #1 on the field, #1 in your heart moniker), so I’ll let the casting pass. But regardless, Johnson is not your traditional QB type for 2007. Kingman as a character is super annoying, self centered, and I know that’s the point. Quite frankly, the storyline reminded me a whole lot of Mr 3000, the Bernie Mac film from 2004, even going so far as to also cast Brian White in a supporting role. There are definite similarities between Kingman and Stan Ross in their egotistical journeys to understand teamwork.
The problem? Mr 3000 is a more entertaining film. Perhaps that is my baseball bias talking, but I struggled to enjoy this film. I think that is because I don’t know who the audience is supposed to be. It’s a kids movie, with plenty of silly, slapstick humor about Johnson doing ballet and the kid wrecking havoc on Kingman’s bachelor pad. The first two-thirds of this film are, quite frankly, just dumb and very hard to watch. The combination of the type of humor and story line with the makings of a football movie, who is supposed to like this? Kids, I suppose, but the selfish football player at the center? Is this fodder to entertain the parents? I’m sure there’s an audience out there, but the screenplay just didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
But I didn’t mention the final third of the film, which miraculously works? Look, it doesn’t completely work, but I was certainly surprised at the emotions it was able to pull and hit hard in the final third. There is a well handed twist that I didn’t see coming and there is genuine bonding between Kingman and Peyton, his daughter. I think much of this can be attributed to Dwayne Johnson and his ability to connect with audiences with his screen presence and charisma. But it was definitely a far cry from Gridiron Gang from the year before. Despite the surprising effectiveness of the final third, I would never in a million years have the desire to revisit this film. Not for me.