Film Reviews: Wednesday, March 02, 2005
The Pacifier
Starring Vin Diesel. Directed by Adam Shankman. Written by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant. Rated PG.
Kiddie Corps

Vin Diesel derails in a different way in the family comedy The Pacifier.


It’s a funny thing how actors who star in crappy movies that earn tons of money don’t attract much sympathy in this world. Not so very long ago, Vin Diesel had some genuine cred as an actor, coming off Saving Private Ryan, Boiler Room, and Pitch Black. You know what happened next: The Fast and the Furious, XXX, and The Chronicles of Riddick. Now he’s got less cred than Ben Affleck, as if it was his fault that those movies were brainless and had dialogue bad enough to kill plants and small animals. (Really the fault was with the millions of ticket buyers who paid to see those movies, but the fans aren’t taking the heat. “The general public has made blockbuster hits out of seven bad movies in a row. What can they do to turn things around?” There’s an article you won’t be reading in Premiere magazine.)
So now comes The Pacifier, in which Diesel goes the same route as previous action-movie heroes from Schwarzenegger to Hulk Hogan, and tries to get down with the kids. He plays Lt. Shane Wolfe, a battle-tested Navy SEAL who’s given the unorthodox assignment of acting as a bodyguard and surrogate to the family of a murdered U.S. government software programmer, while their mom (Faith Ford) is off trying to retrieve her late husband’s work. Of course, Shane’s comically unsuited to taking care of five children ranging from toddlers to teen-agers; asked to cook for the kids, he serves them MREs.
Unfortunately, the softer side of Diesel doesn’t work for him. He doesn’t have the requisite comic snap in the initial scenes when Shane’s trying to order the kids around like they’re members of his unit. (He made me laugh out loud just once, when he tells a bedtime story about a war between elves and gnomes and tears up when he says, “The elves didn’t leave one man behind.”) The later scenes, where he warms up to the children, are if anything worse — the heart-to-heart conversation with the eldest girl (Brittany Snow) falls dreadfully short.
There are some nice things here. The scene midway through in which Shane fights off two ninja assassins with household objects (brooms, tennis rackets, a pup tent) is fluidly directed by Adam Shankman — it’s a better action sequence than anything in Vin Diesel’s action movies. The subplot in which the oldest boy (Max Thieriot) appears to be hanging out with neo-Nazis is a surprising development with a funny payoff that doesn’t jar with the movie’s tone.
Sadly, the same can’t be said of the too-heavy main plot, which reveals why the family is being targeted by international spies. There are too many subplots that play out predictably — when the school principal (Lauren Graham) turns out to have a military background, you know that’ll come into play. Blending action-movie thrills and family-friendly comedy is a tougher job than it looks, and this movie’s weak material prevents it from pulling it off. It’s cold comfort to note that even if a better actor had been cast in the lead, The Pacifier still wouldn’t have been much good.

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