Tooth Fairy -- Film Review



Ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger terrorized a classroom of 5-year-olds in 1990's "Kindergarten Cop," it has become de rigueur for other cinematic strongmen to try to muscle in on the family-film market. But of all the heavyweight action heroes who have traded violent fight scenes for heart-tugging moments of family bonding, only Dwayne Johnson (the artist formerly known as "The Rock") seems entirely at ease in PG-rated surroundings.

In such movies as "The Game Plan," "Race to Witch Mountain" and now "Tooth Fairy," Johnson establishes a comfortable rapport with his younger co-stars that's difficult to fake. It doesn't hurt that he feels little to no shame about sending up his macho screen image; in "Tooth," for example, he prances about in a pink tutu with the same enthusiasm that he displayed punching out bad guys in "The Rundown."

Johnson's compulsively likable presence is the saving grace of "Tooth," almost diverting attention away from the film's muddled script (credited to five writers) and made-for-TV mise-en-scene. He'll certainly be the main draw for families who should turn up in decent numbers opening weekend, driven by fond memories of "Game Plan" as well as a general dearth of fresh options for kid-friendly romps.

Fusing elements of "The Santa Clause" and "The Mighty Ducks," "Tooth" casts Johnson as hockey player Derek Thompson, a once-promising phenom who has been mired in minor-league obscurity for years. Nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy" for his signature move -- a brutal body-check that always costs his opponent a tooth -- Derek spends more time in the penalty box than on the ice. Having given up long ago on his dream of stardom, he feels little guilt about shattering the hopes of others, even his girlfriend's (Ashley Judd) young daughter, who still believes in tiny fairies who steal into children's rooms in the middle of the night exchanging lost teeth for dollar bills. For daring to suggest that these enamel-obsessed sprites don't exist, Derek is charged with "disseminating disbelief" and promptly summoned to tooth-fairy headquarters, where he is outfitted with wings and a uniform and ordered to spend two weeks collecting kiddie teeth.

Although Derek's misadventures as a tooth fairy are supposed to be the main draw, those sequences largely fall flat because of the film's reliance on predictable pratfalls and the lack of strong comic chemistry between Johnson and such supporting players as Stephen Merchant (co-creator of "The Office") and Billy Crystal. Surprisingly, "Tooth" is most successful when it keeps its reluctant hero grounded in the real world, wrestling with his disappointments or attempting to bond with his girlfriend's other child, a surly teenager with musical talent but no self-confidence. This story line isn't any less predictable than the rest of the movie, but Johnson's way with child actors makes it palatable.

Thanks to Johnson, watching "Tooth" isn't as painful as dental surgery, but it's also not an experience you'll want to repeat.

Opens: Friday, Jan. 22 (Fox)