**1/2 (out of 5)
January 22, 2010
Dwayne Johnson as DEREK
Ashley Judd as CARLY
Stephen Merchant as TRACY
Ryan Sheckler as MICK DONNELLY
Julie Andrews as LILY
Chase Ellison as RANDY
Destiny Grace Whitlock as TESS
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Michael Lembeck
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
If you’re an action star, it’s only a matter of time before you start making family films. This seems to be a natural progression. Schwarzenegger did it. Diesel did it. Jackie Chan did it, as recently as last week with the dreadful “The Spy Next Door.”
Dwayne Johnson, who began his career as a wrestler only to become an action film star, has been making family films for a while. He did “The Game Plan” for Disney a few years ago, and that wasn’t a bad movie at all. Now, he’s returning to the family film set with “Tooth Fairy.”
In this movie, Johnson stars as Derek, a minor league hockey star who is more known for his penalties than his scoring record. He is called The Tooth Fairy on the ice because he makes a habit out of knocking the teeth out of his opponents. After a young upstart player puts him in his place, Derek lashes out by telling his girlfriend’s daughter there is no real Tooth Fairy. Suddenly, he’s transported to the magical Fairy Land where the real Tooth Fairies work. His punishment: Spend two weeks as a real Tooth Fairy to rehabilitate from his dissemination of disbelief.
I didn’t realize how familiar this plot felt until I started watching the movie. However, with the transportation to Fairy Land and the imaginary creatures aspect to the movie, I found myself reminded of “The Santa Clause” and its sequels. It was no surprise, as the credits rolled, that I learned the director of the movie was Michael Lembeck, who was at the helm for “The Santa Clause 2” and “The Santa Clause 3.”
And that’s the best way I can tell if someone would like this movie… if you liked the “Santa Clause” sequels, you’ll enjoy this movie. They are cut from the same cloth in terms of comedy delivery and spirit. If you thought those films were a little too schmaltzy or laid on the fantasy a little too thick, you’ll want to stay home.
With any movie dealing with children’s fantasy elements, parents need to be particularly cautious. The movie tip-toes close to some Tooth Fairy spoilers, though the premise of true belief seemed to patch things up for the younger kids in the audience.
The story isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, with Derek trying to redeem his career and learning lessons of perseverance from his girlfriend’s kids. The character gets a little too caustic sometimes, saying some pretty inexcusable things and crushing dreams. But Dwayne Johnson is likeable in the role, so his on-screen charisma tones things down a bit.
A good portion of the film’s lighter moments rely on one-on-one interaction comedy, mostly between Johnson and Stephen Merchant, who plays Derek’s trainer Tracy. While Merchant is pretty funny in these moments, Johnson’s delivery is quite awful. This is why he works better as a slapstick foil rather than a sketch comedian. When Johnson plays cocky, tossing out every godawful tooth pun in the book, he’s terrible. When he’s running around in a tutu trying to be an effective Tooth Fairy, he’s pretty funny.
Other gems to be found in this film include a hilarious cameo by Billy Crystal as the head of the Tooth Fairies’ Q-Branch, as well as an odd little guest spot by animation guru Seth MacFarlane.
“Tooth Fairy” isn’t terrible for grown-ups, but it works more for the kids than anyone else. Lembeck reaches into the same well that he has been for the better part of the past decade, and it makes me wonder if an Easter Bunny movie isn’t just around the corner for him.