‘Game Plan’ playbook mixes lively fun, weary preachiness

OK, I don’t expect many guys to appreciate chick flicks, especially one meant for grade-schoolers and ‘tweeners. But Disney’s The Game Plan sneakily mixes its chick-flick appeals (relationships, makeovers, ballet) with jock-guy star power in the form of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson as a pro football quarterback who (stop me if you’ve heard this one) suddenly learns he has a daughter (charmer Madison Pettis) whom he never knew existed.

Johnson’s character balks at first, naturally. He’s a selfish playboy with no paternal instincts. In fact, anyone without children is essentially selfish–but I get ahead of myself. Yet even in the midst of a playoff run, and even while opening a new restaurant, he finds time to devote himself to his daughter, so the world will seem ordered and we’ll all feel better in the end.

Well, how can you argue with love? The problem is, it all feels so forced and phony and preachy here, like it’s part of a political platform, not a flesh and blood story about real people. Besides, how many times must Hollywood — a place known for nannies and distant parents — shove down our throats the sermon that “kids change everything” and all adults should revolve their worlds around them? The Game Plan trots out these same old plays, served in the context of anecdotal comedy scenes that rarely advance the plot an inch. Mostly it’s about watching big, tough Dwayne get cut down to size with slapsticky sliming (via an uncovered blender and an overbubbled bathtub) and other comic discomfiture. Why, he even winds up in skimpy ballet tights on stage and shedding tears. He hasn’t been daddified — he’s been lobotomized.

But though it’s formulaic to a fault, the film does entertain in small doses. In fact, it’s served well by DVD, where I enjoyed its 105 minutes in increments (a half-hour here, 40 minutes there) more than when I was force-fed its thin soup of a story nonstop in a theater.

Besides, it also has Andy Fickman.

As a new film director, he’s not a household name, but one day he could be. That’s because Andy gets it: Movies are a diversion, not a necessity, and to paraphrase Jack Black’s gonzo guitarist in School of Rock, they serve society by entertaining.

Andy gets entertainment out of a cast — and a thin script — because he loves the process and is an all-around fun fellow and nice guy to be around. He’s also savvy, and he’s going places, just watch. His She’s the Man took a teen chick-flick spin on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and delivered a lively girl-power comedy sparked by the reliable Amanda Bynes. And with The Game Plan, he knew what he was making, and he did his job. In fact, the film broke him out of the pack commercially, with a $108 million global gross, almost $90 million of it domestic. Now he’s prepping a remake of Disney’s ’70s Witch Mountain movies, again with Johnson in tow. And one day, I’m telling you, Andy Fickman will be as beloved and famed as his hero, Garry Marshall — or close, anyway.

Now, a confession: Andy is from my hometown, Houston, and I know him, via interviews and his visits back home. Even so, if his work was bad, I’d say so.

I am not saying The Game Plan is bad. I am saying it’s not for me. Of course, as Dr. Frank N. Furter might say, Andy didn’t make it for me. But hey — I can dig chick flicks and family films, big-time. Even without being in their target audience, I’ve enjoyed Clueless, Election, Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries, Green Card, 13 Going on 30 and many more. That’s because chick flicks can mean many things — most of them good — and those films all had something going for them besides pandering. But that said, I just can’t take more touchy-feely warm-fuzzy resign-yourself-to-parenthood movies where the message is “Have children — or your life will be utterly empty.” I’m sorry, but I’m done with that indoctrination. It’s old, it’s tired, it’s cliched, and it’s grossly misplaced.

You know what? Plenty of people who have kids after they’ve heard that message all their lives turn out to be lousy parents. And partly as a result, plenty of kids have turned out not so great, either. Looking for meaning in life? There are plenty of other places to find it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, and don’t assail me for not preaching motherhood and apple pie. I love my mom, I loved being a kid and hey, I was lucky. Plus, having kids (which I don’t) can be wonderful, as my relatives know in Dallas, where my niece just delivered twin boys after an arduous preganancy. What a blessing and a relief. But the truth is this: The enormity of parenthood isn’t for everyone, contrary to what’s ceaselessly foisted on us by movies and the culture at large.

Heck, these days even allegedly hip and edgy adult comedies like Knocked Up and Juno all but chant the mantra “Make babies, make babies, make babies.” You’d think we were all little girls of the ’50s being indoctrinated with dollies who wet themselves. Can’t you see how great this is?

Come on. As an unwavering mindset it’s not great, but unhealthy — and unnecessary, since zillions of us are going to procreate, anyway. But why poke, push and prod everyone to do so out of guilt or envy, or else they’ll feel they’re not with the program? Isn’t that a disservice to some, if not many?

Besides, I’ve done the math, and here’s my conclusion: This world doesn’t need more people. This world needs better people.

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