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Disney's latest sports comedy presents great family fare, but can't catch older viewers because of sub-par football scenes and low comedy.

Movie Review: The Game Plan – Formula Is As Formula Does

“Little girls don’t speak football, Joe.”

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as Joe Kingman, quarterback of the Boston Rebels, in Disney’s latest sports comedy, The Game Plan. Expected laughs and light drama occur when Joe’s 8-year-old daughter Peyton, played by Madison Pettis, shows up at his doorstep. This self-centered, Elvis-loving star shifts gears using four weeks to make up for several years when he didn’t even know Peyton existed. You may grimace through some cheesy scenes and uneven spots like Joe whining about Peyton taking his towel then comically showing off his muscles.

Johnson begins to shine in the second half of this enjoyable movie while Pettis “dazzles” throughout as “P”. This little actress shows charm and intelligence in a solid big screen debut. Peyton is smart, but manipulative (with good intentions) as the new pair learns from each other. “A bedtime story is supposed to make you feel peaceful,” Peyton says.

Older audiences will likely spot familiar faces in prominent football roles (and minimal speaking time) like Gordon Clapp (NYPD Blue) and Morris Chestnut (The Best Man). Transporter 2 femme fatale Kate Nauta also makes a forgettable, two-scene impression as Joe’s girlfriend Tatianna. Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer, Phenomenon) stars as Joe’s agent Stella, who makes an impressive entrance but then quickly fades into the background, an unfortunate misuse of Sedgwick’s talent. The beautiful Roselyn Sanchez (Without a Trace, Rush Hour 2) plays Peyton’s ballet instructor Monique who also teaches Joe important father tips.

Screenwriters downplay the obvious romantic elements between her and Joe while stuffing the story with sentiment – a bit too much at one hour and 50 minutes. The ending hits some surprising emotional buttons with a predictable ending on the football side. Overall, director Andy Finkman (She’s the Man) creates a smooth experience in several familiar Boston area locales, but tends to douse viewers in the familiar. Training montages set to music, slow motion football scenes, and a Mean Joe Greene-like scene in a tunnel sustains an average experience that never kicks into overdrive. Announcer cameos from Boomer Esiason, Stuart Scott, and Marv Albert work while Jim Gray gets a key scene playing … drum roll … a sports reporter. This movie comes up short on the football side, though ballet scenes promote a nice recommendation and excitement for the sport.

The laughs never hit a high level either as actors often deliver their lines in the loudest possible level as if the high volume will help the punchline. Finkman uses over-the-top, “bandwagon” reactions for excitement instead of concentrating on how the scene can create more excitement naturally. This movie even makes fun of itself (e.g. Joe autographs a “Bad Dad” headlined newspaper), but annoys with heavy-handed ‘pay attention to this point because you’ll see it later’ points. Producers should have avoided familiar elements (the daughter-daddy’s girlfriend confrontation – Parent Trap, the special drink – Rocky) and themes (the greedy agent, that elusive championship ring – name a pro sport). The life lesson “game plan” theme does not really work, but the daddy-daughter sentiment and “what’s the best thing that has ever happened to you” sub-theme does.

If you’re looking for a no-stress outing, put this one in your play book, especially when released on home video. Recommended with reservations and rated PG for some mild thematic elements. Stay for the ending credits for some fun musical numbers featuring the cast and crew.

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