Friday, November 25, 2016

Family Movie Night: THE PACIFIER

Welcome to another installment of FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT, where we give our recommendation on a family-friendly movie to enjoy. This week we look at an oddity in Vin Diesel's career, 2005's THE PACIFIER.

Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here. Sometimes an actor becomes so known for playing a certain type of character that the gods of satire, to say nothing of the natural universe itself, demand that persona be turned on its head, if only for a moment. This push for cosmic equilibrium is the only reason I can think of as to why a movie like The Pacifier should exist.

The Pacifier stars perennial tough-guy Vin Diesel as Navy Seals Lieutenant Shane Wolfe, who we first encounter preparing to lead his team in an operation to rescue a kidnapped scientist. The preparation, and the subsequent mission, give Diesel plenty of opportunity to play the badass, if in the safe, live-action-cartoon sort of way that is the style of most Disney fare. He even gets to growl out a sound-bite that your action-obsessed six-year-old will likely spend a while repeating: "We are Seals, and this is what we do." Trust me, it sounds cool when Vin says it.

Anyway, the mission is a success right up until it isn't. We then learn why this particular scientist is so important: he was working on a new missile defense system which (let's all say it together) would be very dangerous in The Wrong Hands. The scientist was keeping materials related to the project at his home, which makes his family a target, and the key to those materials in a safe deposit box in a bank. While Mrs. The Scientist goes to get the key, Lt. Wolfe is left in charge of her brood, five kids of varying, but still Disney-Appropriate, ages: a baby, a toddler, a pre-teen, and two teenagers. If you've seen any live-action Disney family movies lately, you can probably guess what the kids are like: the pre-teen is "precocious" (read "annoying") and the two teenagers are "tough, sassy kids with attitude" (read "sullen and angry"). The toddler and the baby, meanwhile, are too young to have anything resembling personalities. They exist as vehicles for much of the film's physical humor, dispensing whatever bodily excretion (liquid, solid or gas) is required whenever the film needs a cheap laugh.

And cheap laughs are pretty much the order of the day, though to be fair, "hardcore spec-ops soldier becomes babysitter" is a comedy goldmine in the same way that "tough-as-nails cop becomes kindergarten teacher" was. At first, Lt Wolfe is a fish very much out of water. He tries to run the house like he ran his Seal team; of course that fails. Not knowing how to prepare breakfast, Wolfe feeds the kids MREs, the portable, freeze-dried government-issue meal packs unofficially known as "Meals Rejected by Ethiopians". And there's a baby in the house, so we get no shortage of "man trying to change a diaper" bits, a time-honored gag on which The Pacifier breaks exactly no new ground.

But, as is usually the case in these stories, Lt. Wolfe gradually gets into the groove, and as he finds his stride, so does the movie. If you can hang in there until the Nazi armband comes out (yes, someone does get caught with a Nazi armband; no, it's not for the reason you think), then you've made it to the good part. Or at least the better part. The teens turn sympathetic, the pre-teen learns confidence, and Wolfe realizes that taking care of a family isn't so bad after all. Disney magic for everybody!

Seriously, though: the second half of the movie held all the laughs for me, especially the bedtime story scene. I know I shouldn't find that scene as funny as I do, but there's just something about the way Vin says the name "Rodriguez" that gets me every time.

The Pacifier would not be my first recommendation for a Disney family comedy starring an action hero. That dubious honor would go to 2007's The Game Plan, which doesn't have nearly as long of a warm-up period (and has a better child actor, besides). But if you have the endurance for that first half, The Pacifier at least tries to reward you for your perseverance. Vin does Vin, and Disney does Disney. The result is predictable, but fun in its own way.

The Pacifier is rated PG for action violence, language and rude humor.

Robert's Score: 6/10

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