Hoping for a good movie in January can be as pointless as expecting to catch a glimpse of the tooth fairy. So when a truly entertaining midwinter comedy finally appears, it’s the moviegoing equivalent of finding, say, a C-note stashed under your pillow. A serendipitous combination of star (Dwayne Johnson), material and director (Michael Lembeck), this tale of an arrogant hockey player, forced to serve time in wings and a pastel-colored tutu, scores a goal for kids and adults alike. With Johnson’s fan base steadily mounting, “Tooth Fairy” might well become one of his most successful outings yet.
Following on comedies like “Get Smart” and “The Game Plan,” Johnson has emerged as a surefooted movie star with a ready willingness to mock himself, to embrace his tough-guy bravado even as he undermines it. At a time when physically imposing stars with nimble comic timing are in short supply, Johnson fits the bill to a T.
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A former big-time hockey player whose career was sidelined by injury, Derek Thompson (Johnson) is known for his aggressive on-ice antics; he earned the moniker Tooth Fairy for habitually knocking out opponents’ teeth. Having borne witness to his own crushed dreams, Derek callously advises a young fan and aspiring hockey player to lower his expectations. After he steals tooth-fairy money from his girlfriend’s daughter, Tess (Destiny Grace Whitlock), for a poker game, he’s due for a lesson in humility.
That comeuppance arrives early one morning in the form of an involuntary trip to Fairyland and an audience with the Tooth Fairy Matriarch (Julie Andrews, practically perfect in every way), who promptly informs Derek of his violation: killing children’s dreams. For that, Derek must serve two weeks moonlighting as a “real” tooth fairy. Under the supervision of his well-meaning but goofily incompetent case worker, Tracy (British comedian Stephen Merchant of the original “The Office” and “Extras”), Derek will be cut down to size.
Quite literally, as it turns out: After a costume adjustment and a meeting with basement sprite Jerry (an unbilled but irreplaceable Billy Crystal), Derek gets a hasty lesson in the tools of the fairy trade, among them an uncooperative magic wand, highly concentrated shrinking paste, a can of temporary invisibility spray, amnesia dust and a container of Cat-Away. But even so armed, Derek learns that being a tooth fairy is much harder than it looks.
With his elastic features and chiseled physique, Johnson makes the most of the unexpected comedic challenges arising from each mission. Derek even manages to impress his g.f., Carly (Ashley Judd), who sees his new costume as a charming attempt to make up with her daughter. Johnson deftly alternates between his tooth-fairy identity and his minor league hockey-star alter ego, eventually deploying the skills of one metier to facilitate his performance at the other.
With no fewer than five credited scribes, “Tooth Fairy” serves as a rebuke to those who would argue that too many writers inevitably dilute a film’s comic voice. Sharing the bill are writing duos Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (“City Slickers”) and Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia (“That ’70s Show”) as well as solo scribe Randi Mayem Singer (“Mrs. Doubtfire”); helmer Lembeck (the two “Santa Clause” sequels) also deserves credit for the pic’s well-buffed tonal consistency. Production values are consistently high throughout the picture.