Budding action heroes always feel the need to branch out into other genre fare ranging from comedy to critical drama. For some such as Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger, the path has proven fruitful. Yet for every one of those guys there’s a Sylvester Stallone or Steven Seagal waiting in the wings, men who’ve yielded some classic action vehicles in their time but all attempts to go outside the genre have failed miserably. Is Vin Diesel part of that second group? If he continues to choose vehicles like “The Pacifier” he sure could be.
Essentially a cheap and much ‘lighter’ remake of “Kindergarten Cop,” this comedy mines the joke that tough action hero Diesel is being forced to take care of a group of kids. Along the way every cliche is mined ranging from a bully at school, the kids hating and then eventually coming around to their sitter, and a hokey spy thriller subplot. ‘Kindergarten’ in its day, whilst clean cut, had an at times intense kidnap storyline with which to work and took its threat very seriously. “Pacifier” on the other hand treats its bad guys like the robbers in “Home Alone”, there’s never a sense of danger that these kids come up against and when they do it’s all silly trips and ‘kiddie power’ style moments.
It’s a real shame that Diesel chose this project. As an actor he’s one of the few action guys who does have a potential range outside the genre. He certainly can do more dramatic fare but as a comedy actor he needs to pick vehicles that play to his strengths. Various moments throughout this such as the utterly painful ‘kangaroo dance’ scenes (repeated not once but at least THREE times throughout the film) take away from the few bits that work whether it be the opening sequence, the quite solid ninja fight, or the assorted ‘assertive’ moments when he teaches the kids to stand up for themselves. When not hampered by the script, Diesel does shine in the occasional quiet moment.
The gags are tired and oh so forced. Carol Kane’s atrociously unfunny East European babysitter, Brad Garrett’s stock school teacher bully, and the numerous chase sequences and lame ‘kids misbehaving’ – all contribute to make the film seem trite and tired. Adam Shankman’s previous directorial effort, the moderate “Bringing Down the House” benefitted from several real comic talents to overcome its dated and overdone material. Here he understands even less about pacing and laughs it seems, gags all being fed through a blender in an effort to yield any sort of laugh, never taking time to work any of them effectively. The words lame duck perfectly describe it. As family films go there’s a lot better out there, as general films go though – it’s atrocious.