2005, PG, 91 min. Directed by Adam Shankman. Starring Vin Diesel, Lauren Graham, Faith Ford, Brittany Snow, Max Thieriot, Carol Kane, Brad Garrett.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., March 4, 2005
I like Vin Diesel. I really do. He can be brusque and warm; he’s got a slight lisp. He can breakdance. There’s room for him in comedy. He seems sincere even when he’s doing something risible, and this Disney family farce has plenty of risible tasks for him: pilot a jet ski in pursuit of "a group of Serbian rebels"; wrestle with Kane in full madcap mode as a Czech nanny; use baby powder, hula hoops, and a toddler play-tunnel as weapons. Is it funny? Not for a minute. Cross-pollinate Kindergarten Cop with Home Alone 3, and you still have a hardier hybrid than this Mouse mutt. Not even Kid in the Hall Scott Thompson, as a Birkenstocked drama coach making step-ball-change jokes, can pull this movie out of the vortex of suckitude. We begin with The O.C.’s Tate Donovan kidnapped on a boat and somehow end up with Diesel in charge of his kids (Snow, Thieriot, Morgan York, and two sets of baby twins) while their mother (plastically perky Ford) searches for a high tech McGuffin in Switzerland. Military flourishes dot the soundtrack while Diesel – a SEAL – whips off diapers and whips the family into shape. I suppose there is some pleasure to be had in watching Diesel make trips to Costco and train Fireflies in kung fu. There may be some pleasure to be had in watching the world of motherhood temporarily confound a Big Strong Competent Man. (Allow me to stress "temporarily.") Gilmore Girls’ Graham is the perfunctory love interest, Garrett the perfunctory suburban villain. (Yes, this is the kind of movie in which a 7-foot-tall hairy man in wrestling garb barely registers.) The juvenile thespians are rather likable, as well. Thieriot demonstrates a certain vulnerability as the inevitably misunderstood sensitive adolescent son, and York is appropriately spunky as the aforementioned Firefly. But you never forget that these are Movie Kids living in a Movie Scenario. It makes sense that the script is so antic – it was directed by two alumni of The State – but the problem is that it’s so synthetic, so absolutely by-the-book in its trajectory. Backstories will be exchanged in a revealing moment of candor on a balcony, and our hero will of course learn the true value of Family. Perhaps in some parallel universe this movie could be an edgier satire of how families live and how children are educated, and the intrigue plot could be fully realized as a big goofy joke, but Shankman (Bringing Down the House) isn’t up for that. He walks the line between wholesome and wacky and ends up with the cinematic equivalent of a minivan.