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The Game Plan

Directed by Andy Fickman

Written by Nichole Millard and Kathryn Price

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Starring Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, Madison Pettis, Kyra Sedgwick, Roselyn Sanchez and Gordon Clapp

Classification: G Rating: *1/2

After leaving the lucrative world of professional wrestling to pursue acting, The Rock, a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson, looked like he might take the same path that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did when he departed professional bodybuilding many moons ago - beginning with swords, sandals and sorcery B flicks, then moving into sci-fi and gun-wielding with an occasional comedy spin.

After all, when Johnson first hit the big screen in a cameo in The Mummy Returns (2001) and then as The Scorpion King (2002), he certainly possessed the physique and enough screen presence to carry Arnie's torch. But The Rock had other plans. As it turns out, he wants to make you laugh.

The Game Plan, created as a vehicle for Johnson, is a family comedy heavy on syrup and low on laughs. Following his serious turn as a coach in last year's Gridiron Gang, Johnson hams it up as Joe Kingman, a narcissistic pro quarterback with a dazzling smile and a fully loaded bachelor pad. After eight-year-old Peyton (Madison Pettis), the young daughter he never knew existed, shows up on his doorstep claiming her mother is on a work trip and can't be reached, Joe must balance temporary fatherhood with his team's pursuit of the division championship.

Joe's annoying and meddlesome agent (Kyra Sedgwick) tries to spin her client's lifestyle-cramping misfortune into a family-man image makeover, with mixed results. Hauling along the kid to the opening festivities for his new restaurant, Joe drives home unaware that he left his pint-size passenger behind. The tabloid media have a field day. Behind closed doors, things aren't any easier. Peyton "bedazzles" all his cool football awards (a bedazzler is a contraption that glues glittery sequins onto almost anything). Can bubble bath in the Jacuzzi be far behind?

Pettis is not a bad little actor, but her character is mostly a pain in the neck. Peyton is deceptive, bratty and spoiled. And although kids may find her antics funny, adults will not find many endearing qualities to justify Joe's growing affection.

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The only smart moves in The Game Plan - although their comic potential is not exploited - are scenes at Peyton's ballet school. Joe is recruited by Peyton's pretty teacher ( Without A Trace's Roselyn Sanchez, a trained dancer) to play a tree in the school's upcoming production. Director Andy Fickman ( She's the Man), who has worked extensively in musical theatre, changed the script to develop the recital idea into a full-fledged ballet. In a substantial scene, Joe (whose costume makes him a dead ringer for the Jolly Green Giant) performs while his tittering teammates move from shock to awe. The evolving looks on their faces is a wonderful metaphor for the softening of Joe's hardened bachelor ways.

It's hard to tell from The Game Plan if Johnson, who held his own during two guest turns on Saturday Night Live, has what it takes to get through a comedy without fumbling (Arnie did it by playing the straight man). He may strut some comedy stuff as Agent 23 in the upcoming movie version of the 1960s TV classic Get Smart. But The Game Plan, too bedazzled by sentiments, lacks the pacing and the fun to make it a comic touchdown.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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