"The Pacifier" has a lot in common with 2003's "Bringing Down the House
," both of which were directed by the persistently conventional Adam Shankman. The PG-13-rated "Bringing Down the House
" aimed for a slightly older audience than the PG-rated "The Pacifier," but they are both about a family whose lives are turned upside-down by the appearance of a stranger unsuited for the suburban landscape. Eventually, though, these out-of-their-element protagonists discover a surprising bond with the families as both parties learn something about themselves in the process. A premise oft-trodden, to be sure, and director Shankman knows no bounds when it comes to broadly over-scoring mushy moments with even mushier music cues, and presenting slapstick for the sake of an easy laugh. Shankman's tendency toward crowd-pleasing Hollywood cliches worked in "Bringing Down the House
" because the racially charged material was fresh and funny, and Steve Martin and Queen Latifah were an odd-couple dream pairing.
The comedic material is not there in "The Pacifier," a lame-as-lame-can-be bust that features its share of slapstick for the sake of an easy laugh, but then does nothing to earn said easy laugh. The height of successful humor comes during a subplot involving a Firefly troop of little girls learning to protect themselves and their cookies from a bullying group of boy scouts, and putting to use what they've learned in a scene of over-the-top, non-graphic violence. And at the sight of big, bulky, muscled, head-shaven Navy SEAL Shane Wolfe (Vin Diesel) posing as the Fireflies' adult leader, one meek girl earnestly tells him, "Den mother, you frighten me." The rest of "The Pacifier" would have seemed shopworn even in 1965 and just plain stupid and condescending in any year.
Faced with the death of captive family man Howard Plummer (Tate Donovan), whom he was sent in to rescue and protect, Shane Wolfe is given the unlikely task of moving into the late scientist's home to protect his children while mother Julie (Faith Ford) goes to Switzerland on business. Howard, it seems, had created a program known as G.H.O.S.T. that holds the key to, well, something having to do with nuclear bombs and foreign countries, and although no one knows the password to unlocking the safe it is in, a lot of baddies sure want it. When the family's Czechoslovakian nanny, Helga (Carol Kane), gets fed up and quits, Shane is left stranded to take care of five kids on his own: 16-year-old menace-to-the-roads Zoe (Brittany Snow), picked-upon 14-year-old Seth (Max Thieriot), wise-beyond-her-years 10-year-old Lulu (Morgan York), and the younger Peter (Keegan and Logan Hoover) and Tyler (Bo and Luke Vink). A military man, Shane doesn't know the first thing about parenting. As his stay is prolonged, however, he discovers that much-needed human connection and love has been the one thing desperately missing from his life.
As a comedy for the entire family, "The Pacifier" is strictly immature, difficult to believe it would, or could, entertain anyone above single digits. The jokes, none of which are laugh-out-loud funny or even remotely clever, mostly revolve around dirty diapers, babies projectile-vomiting milk, an ear-biting pet duck, and people falling down stairs and getting hit in the head with a fire extinguisher. At the least, the viewer's eyes will get a workout from rolling so much in a 90-minute span.
When the film finally gets serious, the emotions are not to be believed for a second because screenwriters Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant (2004's "Taxi
") do not earn our trust and sympathy. When oldest daughter Zoe breaks down and cries, mourning the loss of her father, Brittany Snow (TV's "American Dreams") is convincing as a girl trying to come to terms with the death of a parent, but what surrounds this scene is way too juvenile to deserve our cares. As for Shane's catharsis that he has never allowed anyone into his life and yearns for a family, the way this is handled is ham-fisted. Shane does not share enough solid time with these kids to believably fall in (platonic) love with them; as for Peter, who looks to be around four, he has less than three lines in the whole movie, used as a plight device and never coming off as a real kid. Mostly, he is just flung over Shane's shoulder and remains quiet on cue. Amidst all of the ill-advised pratfalls and uncomfortable aims at moralizing is a kid's picture that happens to involve murder, explosions, and irredeemable homophobic remarks that teach no sort of lesson to young or old audiences.
Vin Diesel (2004's "The Chronicles of Riddick
"), buff body and baritone voice in check, has been typecast in the role of an action hero to varying degrees of success. As Shane Wolfe, he attempts to lampoon this image while marrying it with comedy. Diesel isn't funny here, but that isn't to say he couldn't be funny with swifter material to work from. As his tree eldest charges, Brittany Snow, Max Thieriot (2004's "Catch That Kid
"), and especially Morgan York (2003's "Cheaper by the Dozen
"), as brutally honest Zoe, show glimmers of promise with little to do. Fulfilling the requirement of a love interest for Shane is the effervescent Lauren Graham (2003's "Bad Santa
"), as school principal Claire Fletcher. Graham is way too smart and intuitive an actor to be wasting her time in this one-dimensional tripe. In more over-the-top roles, the greatly under-appreciated Carol Kane (2004's "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen
") is wasted and disposed of quickly as the Plummers' Transylvanian-accented nanny, and Brad Garrett (TV's "Everybody Loves Raymond") is annoying and downright creepy as smarmy vice principal/wrestling coach Murney.
"The Pacifier" strives for the same merits as 1990's "Kindergarten Cop," Arnold Schwarzenegger's attempt at a more family-oriented comedy, but misses that mark to an embarrassing degree. "Kindergarten Cop" was charming and likable, still memorable and quote-worthy fifteen years after its release. Having seen "The Pacifier" only hours ago, it has already begun to vacate my memory bank, and it can't vanish soon enough. This is insultingly dumb cookie-cutter fare all the way, making one pine for the days of the recent "Are We There Yet?
" That Ice Cube-starrer was also patronizing to one's intelligence, but at least had some comic flair to off-shoot its insufferable mawkishness. "The Pacifier" is just plain hopeless.