The Pacifier

(2005) * Pg
91 min. Walt Disney Pictures. Director: Adam Shankman. Cast: Vin Diesel, Lauren Graham, Faith Ford, Brittany Snow, Max Thieriot.

In a word, The Pacifier is stupefying, but let's pretend for a moment that I get paid by the word. Vin Diesel's career cluster bomb has shot out in numerous directions: old-school drama (Boiler Room, Sidney Lumet's upcoming Find Me Guilty), lamebrained action (XXX, The Chronicles of Riddick), and now, Schwarzeneggerian post-action comedy.

The Pacifier, as no doubt every film reviewer will note, is a pastiche of the pre-packaged sentiment and "funny" action of movies like Schwarzenegger's Kindergarten Cop, and the joke is precisely the juxtaposition of action movie and kiddie comedy: tough guy meets soft kids, bad guys descend, fireworks ensue. But when the problems have all been solved and the popcorn eaten, will anyone remember this Hollywood shit-fest?

Diesel plays Navy SEAL Shane Wolfe, a lone "Wolfe" who carries the burden of his late father and the guilt of alllowing a scientist under his protection to slip from his grasp (established, under the titles, in a perhaps intentionally over-the-top action sequence). Assigned to protect the scientist's family while the mother (sitcom star Faith Ford) attempts to recover a password-protected secret cache in a Zurich bank, Wolfe doesn't realize what he has in the family's Czech nursemaid (former sitcom star Carol Kane) until she's gone, leaving Wolfe to play Mr. Mom to five children—teens Zoe (Brittany Snow of TV's American Dreams) and Seth (Max Thieriot of Catch That Kid), tween Lulu (Morgan York), tot Peter, and baby Tyler—and the family duck (sigh).

Each of the older kids has a distinct personal problem which, as it turns out, only Wolfe can solve with his unique insight and military discipline. Zoe's having trouble learning to drive, Seth's got a Junior James Dean thing going on, and Firefly Lulu needs to learn self-defense to take on some nasty cub scouts. All the catchphrases in the world ("My way—no highway option") can't protect Wolfe from the indignities he'll have to face: driving a minivan with a "WORLD'S GREATEST MOTHER" bumper sticker, wrestling Brad Garrett of Everyone Loves Raymond, and directing a community theatre production of The Sound of Music. You think I'm joking? Look, I had to watch this movie.

From the moment Wolfe says, "Boy, this family's in for a rude awakening," anyone walking into any multiplex in America could tell you the rest of the plot of this movie, which I guess makes it cinematic comfort food for entertainment conservatives. It doesn't make much sense, you understand (why would a Navy SEAL on the job tolerate elaborate distractions like a musical when he's supposed to be working as a bodyguard? why would the mother spend two weeks in Zurich guessing a password?), but maybe some will be able to subsist on the too-fleeting appearances of love interest Lauren Graham and egotistical director Scott Thompson. To those who think critics are too hard on movies like this, I ask, can you tell the difference between a Pacifier and a School of Rock? Family films don't have to suck.

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