March 5, 2005

Beyond the Valley of the Care-Bears

by JEREMIAH LEWIS, American Digest Film Editor

The Pacifier 3.5 stars out of 5

Actually, it doesn't stink.

WHAT WORKED ONCE for Schwarzenegger in 1990 seems to be an effective vehicle for similarly styled action and sci-fi star Vin Diesel, whose considerable frame is now harnessed to a family friendly improbably-but-enjoyable plot involving a top-secret weapons program, terrorists, and...babysitting.

In a move such as this, Diesel might be warned by his agent to steer clear of both action and comedy for a while. Give audiences some time to accept him as a tough, but warmhearted hero whose thick skin never gets in the way of his good intentions. It shouldn't take long, as The Pacifier contains enough kid-friendly material to make parents happy, without keeping them bored in the theatre in the process. Ultimately, however, the question of how well kids can take a burly, deep-voiced tough guy as the star rest on the strength of the script.

It's one that isn't without flaws; the essence of the story is that Shane Wolf (Diesel), a Navy SEAL whose dedication to the craft of war is as serious as it is complete, is asked to protect the Plummer family, whose recently deceased father and husband has hidden top-secret government weapons research to prevent it from being stolen by greedy, belligerent countries. Shane is saddled with taking care of five children whilst their mother (Faith Ford) is sent to Zurich to unlock her husband's safe deposit box.

Shane takes his duties seriously, and his military training becomes the reins by which he heads the family down the path of righteousness and discipline. Zoe (Brittany Snow) and Seth (Max Thieriot) are the rebellious teens whose initial dislike of Shane becomes respect, not only as a watchkeeper, but also as a friend and mentor. Lulu (Morgan York) also learns valuable, lively life and karate lessons from him, whilst he learns to take care of soiled diapers, get the kids to school on time, and deal with the burdens of a family whose loss of their father is an unmentioned subject.

There are some sweet moments peppered amongst the amusements. Seeing Vin Diesel dancing and singing a children's song to Peter (Keegan and Logan Hoover) is a genuinely disarming moment, as is a conversation with Zoe that both explains his tough demeanor and helps dispel the weight of grief still lying heavy on her heart. These scenes are done well, without hyper-sentiment or aggressive humour, and helps center the otherwise improbable plot. Other scenes are a little clunkier, with plot stretching that rivals Elastigirl's amazing abilities from The Incredibles.

The Pacifier's also quite funny in places, parts of which derive solely from the fact that it is Vin Diesel filling the role of tough guy who must learn to be soft to connect to the other characters. However, the role has little development. From the beginning Shane is tough but caring, if distant. By the end, he has bridged the gap somewhat, but ultimately is still the same, generally good, endearing fellow. Kids won't worry about that, and really, in the scope of the film, it's really not that big a deal. To have Diesel in this fish-out-of-water story is enough of a fun escape that it's really the heart of the film that matters most.

Brad Garrett has some nasty moments as the school Vice Principal and wrestling coach who taunts Seth and Shane whilst exercising some sick power play, but is balanced by the lovely Laura Graham as the school's principal and Shane's could-be love interest. Little substance here, but again, not really the point. There are a number of holes and gaffes in the plot that might cause consternation to more stingy critics, but this viewer was inclined to let them slide.

Overall, The Pacifier works because it is unpretentiously focused on the funny, not given to false moments (mostly) of cheesy sentimentalism, and features Diesel as a surprisingly funny guy whose willingness to submit to multiple on-screen embarrassments is a testament at the very least to his good nature. Kids may not get some of the jokes, but perhaps it will satisfy the way a Kindergarten Cop did a decade and a half ago.

Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe reviews films both at his site and American Digest. Lewis can be reached directly at

Posted by Vanderleun at March 5, 2005 1:38 PM
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