I must admit, I’ve been somewhat surprised by the big-screen success of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Judging from his past as a wrestling superstar, and his early turns in such forgettable fare as 'Longshot' and 'The Scorpion King,' he really could have been this generation's Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal. Instead, he's amassed a growing resume of roles in respectable flicks (including 'The Rundown,' 'Doom,' and 'Gridiron Gang'), and now he’s had his first bona-fide smash with 'The Game Plan.'
The film is Disney’s obvious attempt to recreate the success of 'The Pacifier,' which starred another hulking he-man (Vin Diesel) as a brute who softens up with the help of a cute kid. Now it's Johnson's turn, and his ‘Jerry Maguire’-style role as self-centered football star Joe Kingman is clearly meant to widen his appeal to a family audience while expanding his box office in the process. Miraculously, despite an utterly trite script, ‘The Game Plan’ works.
The plot reads straight out of a Hollywood pitch meeting. Johnson’s Joe Kingman has an ego as big as the NFL, and he’s riding a wave of corporate sponsorships as he gears up for yet another Super Bowl victory. Yet his bachelor life get complicated when Peyton (newcomer Madison Pettis), the 8-year-old daughter he never knew he had, lands on his doorstep. Joe's first days with Peyton will (of course) be a disaster, but wouldn't ya know it, the big lug is really just an old softy at heart, and the two quickly form an unbreakable bond. Despite the protestations of his teammates and his money-hungry manager (Kyra Sedgwick), Joe is about to do the unthinkable -- risk the big game for the joys of fatherhood.
What 'The Game Plan' lacks in originality it makes up for with heart. As an actor, Johnson always manages to win me over with his sense of humor and, dare I say it, humility. The guy doesn't pummel his enemies like a Schwarzenegger or a Stallone, but rather he disarms them with his charm. Sure, he's no master thespian, but he plays within his abilities, and in 'The Game Plan,' he manages to expand his range beyond his traditional action-oriented fare. In the process, he displays a genuine flair for light, physical comedy, and his self-depreciating mugging is actually the movie's greatest asset.
Director Andy Fickman pairs his star with a game cast that has real chemistry -- Roselyn Sanchez shows real fire and spunk as Joe's love interest, while Sedgwick brings palpable menace to her stock villain part, and as little Peyton, Pettis gives one of the least obnoxious kid performances I've seen in a while. She's cute and precocious, but not grating -- her scenes with the Rock are so sweet and natural that by the big climactic football game, we've actually come to care for these characters. Of course, we know exactly how the movie will end, but that doesn't make the outcome any less touching.
None of this is to say that 'The Game Plan' is anything less than contrived and obvious, it's clearly a Disney product and not a heartfelt, personal statement by the filmmakers, but for this kind of innocuous family comedy, it's better made and more well-acted than most of its counterparts, and it all goes down painlessly. If every generation needs a lite sports flick about a man-child who gets in touch with his feminine side thanks to a cute kid, it might as well be as enjoyable as 'The Game Plan.'
Disney brings 'The Game Plan' to Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, framed at 2.40:1 widescreen, that proves to be quite wonderful, and is actually one of the studio’s finer efforts.
Typical of a new release, the source is flawless, a great print that’s free of blemishes. Blacks are excellent, and contrast is nicely modulated, with little blooming or excessive whites. Colors are warmly reproduced, resulting in strong primaries and nice, even fleshtones. Though much of 'The Game Plan' is a domestic comedy, the visuals open up for the big football scenes, which are finely detailed and three-dimensional. Some of the widest shots have that “you-are-there” quality inherent with the best high-def -- I could see whipping out this disc as a demo. Some sporadic noise and slight edginess keep this from earning five-stars, but in almost all respects, this one is a real winner.
'The Game Plan' isn’t entirely a sports movie, but it’s also not a total slapstick comedy, likewise, its soundtrack falls somewhere between those two styles. This uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) easily handles the disparate tones of the film, even if it never really blew me away.
Predictably, the big football scenes are the most alive. Surrounds are really engaged here, giving surprising force to discrete effects (the roaring crowds, the booming score etc.). The more dramatic and lightly comedic aspects suffer by comparison, with little notable atmosphere or impact. Tech specs for the mix are easily up to snuff, however, and this is certainly a slick sound mix. Dynamics are wide and expansive, with low bass making its presence felt when needed. Dialogue is always intelligible, so there are no volume balance issues. The source is clearly in excellent shape, with no anomalies or defects.
Not an incredibly deep batch of extras, but the material is perfectly in keeping with the lighthearted nature of the flick. (Note that Disney has included English, French, and Spanish subtitles for all of the video-based extra features, all of which are presented in full 1080 HD, except where noted.)
'The Game Plan' is a pleasant, if predictable, family comedy, but even in middling fare like this, The Rock proves he has an undeniable screen presence, and I was always entertained. This Blu-ray disc is a winner, with great video and audio, and a nifty visual commentary track exclusive to the high-def version. Fans of the film should pick this one up without hesitation, and it's worth a rental if you're in the mood for some silly family fun.