Every bit as formulaic as its generic ad art suggests, “The Game Plan” sticks close to the playbook for family-friendly laffers about self-absorbed workaholics suddenly saddled with parental responsibilities. Still, overworked formulas can prove mighty potent with the right ingredient in the mix. Wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is the most valuable player here, revealing impressive comic chops and megawatt charisma even while serving as a human punchline for many of the pic’s predictable sight gags. Thanks primarily to his game performance, “Game Plan” could score big in theatrical arenas and homevid playoffs.
Johnson strikes a winning balance of swagger, exasperation and sensitivity as Joe Kingman, superstar quarterback for the Boston Rebels. (The absence of any real-life NFL teams and events — such as, for example, the Super Bowl — is glaringly conspicuous in a pic otherwise peppered with product placements.) An avid fan of Elvis Presley, whose image and music loom large in his lavish bachelor pad, Kingman has appropriated the nickname of the King, and earns the title each Sunday with inspired (albeit selfish) gridiron performances. Fans love him, women want him, teammates appreciate him and endorsement contracts enrich him. Life is good.
But the sure-shot quarterback is thrown for a loop when eight-year-old Peyton Kelly (Madison Pettis) shows up at his front door and introduces herself as the daughter he never knew he had. She’s the product of Kingman’s fleeting marriage to a woman who — according to the child — is conveniently abroad for four weeks. And she’s been sent to her father — again, according to Peyton — for some long-overdue bonding.
The truth behind Peyton’s transparent scam — well, transparent to everyone but the other characters onscreen for the first 80 or so minutes — is no more credible than her cover story.
But never mind: Helmer Andy Fickman and scripters Nichole Millard and Kathryn Price intro the contrivances merely as an excuse to concentrate on much more important stuff — stuff like splattering a well-appointed kitchen with goop tossed by an uncovered blender. Or outfitting Kingman’s beloved pet bulldog with a tutu. Or placing Kingman in the middle of a ballet school production of “Swan Lake.” Johnson remains a good sport and a first-rate farceur while charting Kingman’s by-the-numbers evolution from cocksure egotist to tender loving daddy (and, just as important, less-selfish team player). As Peyton, Pettis relies too heavily on squeaky-voiced, scrunchy-faced cutie-pie shtick, but that’s probably what got her cast in the first place.
Supporting performances range from competent to cartoonish, with Morris Chestnut coming down on the side of recognizable human behavior as Kingman’s wise wide receiver, and Kyra Sedgwick overplaying to the cheap seats while wearing makeup that indicates a recent Kabuki gig. Hayes Macarthur is almost too convincing as a dimwitted player. As Kingman’s coach, Gordon Clapp fleetingly registers authority in a role that apparently was decimated in the editing room.
Way overlong at 110 minutes, which gives the aud too much time to note narrative gaps and logical inconsistencies, “The Game Plan” nonetheless features a polished tech package. Production designer David J. Bomba wittily underscores the empty lavishness of Kingman’s pre-Peyton lifestyle. And, of course, the soundtrack is full of Elvis Presley standards, including one amusingly warbled by Johnson himself.