The Pacifier is typically Disney: non-offensive to the point of banality.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

Arnold Schwarzenegger did it. Sylvester Stallone, Hulk Hogan, even Clint Eastwood did it. They all played against their supermacho image by starring in frivolous, lightweight comedies, sometimes living to regret the decision. So, why shouldn't Vin Diesel do it?

The comedy in Disney's 2005 release, "The Pacifier," derives from our seeing a tough guy plunked down into a mundane, workaday situation and then our watching the results. In this case it's a Navy Seal in suburbia, taken out of combat and placed into a tract house, complete with bratty kids. Of course, it isn't supposed to occur to the characters in the movie or to the audience that real-life Navy Seals and super spies and heavyweight boxing champions usually do have mundane, workaday lives most of the time. But we prefer our 007 types always to be unmarried and on the move, never tied down to things like changing diapers or doing dishes. Would that life were so.

Anyway, Diesel plays a fellow whose very name signifies toughness: Lt. Shane Wolfe. You gotta admit, it's a pretty cool name. Probably too cool for anything but a comedy because in a genuine thriller it would be called a cliché. In a comedy, it's called humorous exaggeration.

"The Pacifier" is pretty formulaic stuff, but when it sticks purely to domestic situations--Diesel the house mom--it's actually rather amusing in its own innocuous way. It's when the script strays off into mock heroics and ersatz thrills that things go downhill fast. I wish we had one of the Monty Python troupe to step in and tell everybody to stop that, this is getting silly. But we don't, and "The Pacifier" gets silly really fast.

Diesel ("The Fast and the Furious," "xXx," "A Man Apart," "The Chronicles of Riddick") is cast as the stereotypical action hero, a special-ops agent who can handle any situation, no matter how difficult. But when the movie opens, he's about to lead his first failed operation. As Wolfe, he and his team are attempting to rescue a kidnapped American scientist, Professor Howard Plummer (Tate Donovan), from the clutches of a group of bad guys out to get the plans for the professor's secret missile-defense system. The baddies are referred to as Serbians in the beginning of the film but somehow morph in North Koreans by the end. In any case, the operation goes wrong, the professor gets killed, and nobody finds the secret plans.

Now, here's the thing. The government thinks maybe the plans are either in the professor's house or hidden in a Swiss safe-deposit box. So Wolfe's commanding officer, Capt. Bill Fawcett (Chris Potter), flies off to Switzerland with the professor's widow, Julie Plummer (Faith Ford), to check out the safe-deposit box, while leaving Wolfe in charge of searching the house and, incidentally, taking care of the Plummer kids for a few days. Five kids, to be exact, from teenagers Zoe (Brittany Snow) and Seth (Max Thieriot) down through Lulu (Morgan York) and Peter (Keegan and Logan Hoover) to baby Tyler (Bo and Luke Vink). All of them obnoxious, spoiled brats.

What are the odds of any of this happening? Zero, of course, but that's not the issue. This is a comedy farce, and farces are not supposed to depend on our believing in the characterizations, just the inflated situations. Still, it seems stretching things a considerable length just to get Wolfe to baby-sit some children for a few days.

About everything you would expect to happen to Wolfe does happen. The family guard duck bites him on the ear. The baby pukes on him. The "little angels" are anything but. The kids are awful, and the house is in chaos. Various domestic conflicts ensue, most of them foolish, nonsensical, and occasionally cute.

Carol Kane plays Helga, the Czechoslovakian nursemaid and cook, who asks Wolfe in a thick accent upon his arrival, "Are you licensed to kill?" "No, ma'am," answers Wolfe. "Too bad," says Helga. "It could have come in handy." Like Martin Short in "Father of the Bride," Kane is the best part of the picture, but, unfortunately, she abandons ship early on, leaving Diesel to fend for himself.

Brad Garrett is thrown in as Mr. Murney, an idiotic school vice principal in charge of discipline, who challenges Wolfe to a wrestling match in front of the whole student body. I have no idea why he or the bit was included. And Lauren Graham plays the school's principal, Claire Fletcher, a former Navy officer set up by the script as a possible romantic interest for Wolfe that goes nowhere.

Although the family strife is harmless enough, the movie's finale goes straight off the map into never-never land. What do you mean does Diesel get to fight? I guess the filmmakers had to throw in an action-movie ending to make it seem like a thriller and appeal to the older teen crowd; I don't know. In any case, the conclusion looks like it was tacked on from some other movie entirely. Kind of like the music, at least part of which seems stolen from John Williams' score for "1941."

For all this, however, "The Pacifier" is not the worst film of the year, and it's probably not Vin Diesel's worst film, either. It's just sort of ho-hum territory, vapid, with no chances taken and nothing happening we couldn't have guessed going in. It's Disney, after all.

Almost everything about the video is first-rate. The image size is just short of its 2.35:1 theatrical-release ratio, transferred in anamorphic widescreen at a very high bit rate. The colors are beautiful, very rich and alive, and object delineation is above average. There is almost no visible grain, and the only minor flaw I noticed was some horizontal line shimmer on the outside of the Plummer house. Otherwise, well done, Disney.

The sound, too, is excellent, the Dolby Digital 5.1 sonics producing a wide dispersion through all five speakers, with a strong bass and dynamics for maximum impact. The surrounds are used for all kinds of things, from simple musical-ambiance enhancement to helicopter, automobile, and gunshot noises.

The disc comes with the usual complement of bonus items, chief among them being an audio commentary with director Adam Shankman and writers Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant. I had only a few minutes that I chose to devote to it, and what I heard seemed representative of most group efforts, the participants trying their best to be casual and chatty, having fun reminiscing about the shoot. Next are five deleted scenes, done up in widescreen; they seemed no better or worse than anything that was left in the picture. A two-minute blooper reel follows, which may actually be funnier than the material in the feature film. Then, there are two featurettes: "Brad Garrett: Unpacified" and "On Set With Mr. Diesel: Action Hero/Nice Guy," four minutes and two minutes respectively, neither very enlightening. A two-minute series of television spots, "Special Ops TV Commercials," concludes the regular lineup. In addition, there are sixteen scene selections, with a chapter insert; Sneak Peeks at seven other Buena Vista titles; English and French spoken languages; and French subtitles, with English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
"The Pacifier" is typically Disney: non-offensive to the point of banality. It's mainly meant as cute family fun, with an expected emphasis on cartoonish physical violence. The best that can be said for Diesel is that he does not embarrass himself and, for a change, shows us his human side. (Diesel's name has several times been put up in nomination at the Razzie Awards for Worst Actor; I think some people take their action movies way too seriously.) While "The Pacifier" doesn't have an original bone in its body, it is clear that its heart is in the right place. Put it this way: It wasn't half as bad as I thought it was going to be.


Film Value