I went into this movie fully expecting to loathe it. How could it have been otherwise when the poster for it shows Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson wearing a football jersey while towering over a cute-looking little girl?
But I don't mind admitting that I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the entire film, despite being painfully aware of the fact that those deviously manipulative folks over at Disney were playing me like the piped piper.
The one reason why "The Game Plan" works 's and works horribly well 's came as quite a shock to me. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson can actually do comedy. No, really.
Johnson plays Joe Kingman, a famous quarterback with the Boston Socks (or whatever they're called 's I don't follow football). He's a cheesy, slightly sleazy but generally likeable sort of guy with an Elvis obsession and a cute bulldog called Spike.
But for all his fame, fortune and self-regard, guess what? Deep down 's and that's quite deep down considering the man's musculature 's he's not happy. Not only has he yet to win the greatest sporting prize of them all, but he's also a little lonesome.
Cue the unexpected arrival of Peyton (Madison Pettis), the daughter he never knew he had. "The Game Plan" is utterly formulaic in its basic idea of an overworked, self-centered parent finding meaning and moral redemption through caring for a child. But by cleverly manipulating and humiliating Johnson's on-screen macho persona, the film is genuinely moving at times. Either that or I'm just a sentimental sucker.
Johnson actually seems to relish the relentless comic abuse, whether it's performing in a school ballet as a tree in leotards, or speaking with a theatrical lisp after suffering an allergic reaction to cinnamon.
It's perhaps also worth mentioning that Johnson's teeth seem to have reached a whole new degree of whiteness. They shine as though from some sort of internal energy source. Or perhaps they're part of Disney's game plan. Perhaps their scientific researchers found that incandescent teeth greatly improve audience reactions.
"The Game Plan" is, needless to say, utterly cynical at heart. One of Johnson's many moral lessons is to give up an extremely lucrative advertising deal with a fast food chain. And yet the movie contains one of the most shameless pieces of product placement I've seen in a long while. So it's good, clean, wholesome family fun all round then.
Opens March 21 in Latvia and March 7 in Lithuania