Just weeks after something dubbed a "squeakquel," we have a movie advertised with the tagline: "You can't handle the tooth." One quakes for the marketing that awaits us for "Marmaduke."
Just as Hollywood has been digging through the superhero archives, it has also been marauding the cupboard of mythical childhood creatures — they come with a "built-in" audience, after all. Yes, following the big-screen exploits of elves and bedroom monsters, the Tooth Fairy was inevitably ready for its close-up.
"Tooth Fairy" steals liberally from "Monsters Inc." and "Elf," among many others. It's very much what you'd expect: a tale of optimism overcoming disbelief; family fare with comical casting (Julie Andrews as a Fairy Godmother); a PG-rated "SNL" skit; The Rock in a tutu.
But despite its predictability and pat Hollywood cliche, "Tooth Fairy" is mostly charming.
Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) is Derek Thompson, a formerly skilled hockey player who, after injury, has wound up "a goon" — a bruiser whose muscle shields more talented players — on a minor league hockey team in Lansing, Mich. He's beloved by the fans, who chant his nickname "the Tooth Fairy" because of his ability for sending bicuspids flying.
His overriding philosophy is akin to the early rounds of "American Idol": Dreams are nothing but delusion. He dashes the hopes of pip-squeak fans and very nearly ruins them for the two young children (Chase Ellison, Destiny Whitlock) of his girlfriend, Carly (Ashley Judd).
Stephen Merchant, the spindly, googly-eyed comedian best known as Ricky Gervais' frequent collaborator, plays Derek's "case worker," and ushers him through fairy training. The spry, ever-grinning Merchant is a considerable boost to the film — he's innately funny.
Billy Crystal (who also voiced one of the monsters in "Monsters Inc.") makes a cameo as an older fairy "with tenure," who outfits Derek with the tools of the trade: a shrinking potion, amnesia dust, an invisibility spray, a cat repeller.
Johnson is perhaps ill suited to believably play a cynic. His enormous grin, even when in repose, is never far below the surface. He's also playing a character quite close to his footballer in "The Game Plan." Nevertheless, he's exceptionally winning.
That Derek should be neatly redeemed — and turned from Sean Avery into Sidney Crosby, to boot — is patently obvious and confirms the lack of ambition of "Tooth Fairy."
Director Michael Lembeck (who helmed the second and third of the "Santa Claus" movies) shows little imagination in what could have been a quirkier, more interesting kids tale. He does direct surprisingly good hockey sequences, though, including an overhead shot of an airborne tooth.
But movies that implore whether or not you can handle the tooth aren't to be picked apart like a dentist. Suffice to say, families could do a lot worse than spend some time with the toothy smiles of Johnson and Merchant.
"The Tooth Fairy," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG for mild language, some rude humor and sports action. Running time: 101 minutes. Two stars out of four.