The Game Plan Movie Review
As a member of the fictional Boston Rebels, Joe Kingman (Johnson) is fixated on two things - winning and Elvis. His swanky Beantown bachelor pad is laden with memorabilia -- both his own and the King's -- and he loves his millionaire athlete lifestyle. One day, there's a knock on the door. It's a young girl named Peyton (Pettis), and she claims that Joe is her dad. Taken aback, the QB contacts his agent, Stella Peck (Kyra Sedgwick), and begs her to straighten out this mess. A little backwards glancing confirms paternity -- at least for the time being -- and Joe finds himself juggling the demands of the playoffs, the ribbing of his teammates, and the needs of his sudden offspring. When she expresses an interest in studying ballet, Joe sends the child to Monique Vasquez's (Sanchez) elite school. Yet newfound fatherhood is taking its toll, and just Joe's luck, the championship game is coming up.
Like that classic weeper The Champ but without the shrill last act death histrionics, or any number of Depression-era visits from that curly-haired Ms. Good Ship Lollipop, The Game Plan is every little girl's biggest hope dressed up in implausible pigskin prosperity. It's redemption wrenched out of caricature and routine running gags. The humor barely moves beyond "food to the face" level laughs, while emotion derives directly from the Moon/June school of affection. If this film were any more by-the-numbers, it would be a velvet painting on a trailer park mantelpiece. Even the moments of intelligence are hindered by fart jokes and gratuitous moments of our shirtless star pumping iron.
One of the most important motion picture maxims, however, states that tired old formulas can work if the right actors are connected to the clichés. In that regard, director Andy Fickman is a true casting genius. He populates this pap with a quartet of talent capable of transcending even the biggest plot pigeonhole. Johnson is so delightfully disarming, so fearless in portraying both narcissist and numbskull, that we don't mind his last-minute change of heart. Sedgwick, working with almost nothing, turns Peck into a delightfully indirect villain. Sanchez is around for love interest eye candy, and she is some sweet Hispanic honey indeed. That just leaves Pettis, and for a precocious pre-tween, she's not bad. Her character, however, is overwritten to the point of irritation. This is one dancing doll that's just too tuned in for her junior size Garanimals.
When combined, these performers plow through a sloppy screenplay, some incomplete scenes, a few undeniable archetypes, and more than a little heavy handed heart stringing. Yet those damned tear ducts betray us, cranking up the waters works right when Peyton feels rejected and Joe is injured in the big game. By "family comes first" time -- and the resulting competition epiphany -- there's not a dry cheekbone in the cheering section. It's all so manufactured and mechanical that you can't believe your having such a sucker's reaction. But that's the power in embracing the time worn chestnut. That's the odd effectiveness of The Game Plan.
He gave his love a chicken that had no bones.