Little comedy in The Pacifier
By Lady Liberty
* out of ****
A few years ago, I became aware of a former New York City bouncer going by the name of Vin Diesel when I saw a little science fiction adventure film entitled Pitch Black. I liked the movie quite a bit, and I loved the man who played the irredeemably bad Riddick. On the strength of that performance alone, I made a point of seeing xXx on opening weekend. I liked that movie so much that I bought it (and, as you know, I don't buy many movies). I think Vin Diesel is a terrific action star. He's not necessarily a terrific actor, but then you don't have to be to carry some really good action movies (look at Schwarzenegger in the Terminator series, for example, or Keanu Reeves in the Matrix films). But to carry a comedy, you have to have some comedic flair. And to be called a comedy, the script has to actually be funny. The Pacifier fails miserably on both counts.
Lt. Shane Wolfe (Vin Diesel) and his company of Navy SEALs are assigned to rescue an American scientist who is being held by foreign nationals who want to get their hands on a weapon invented by said scientist. When the scientist is killed, the race is on to recover the weapon he's hidden somewhere. The key to the project codenamed GHOST might be in a Swiss bank vault, or it could be hidden somewhere in the scientist's home. It's the latter possibility that puts the scientist's wife and children in danger, and which sees Wolfe assigned to protect the family. While US military officers take the scientist's widow, Julie Plummer (Faith Ford) to Switzerland to check out the bank vault, Wolfe searches the residence for GHOST or clues as to its whereabouts while working to juggle caretaking five rowdy kids.
The Plummer family has a Romanian nanny (Carol Kane) to ease some of the load, but the kids are more than a match for Helga and the domestically inexperienced Wolfe. A depressed teenage daughter, Zoe (Brittany Snow) and a rebellious teen son, Seth (Max Thieriot) cause problems both at home and at school. The young Lulu (Morgan York) tries Wolfe's patience to the breaking point with her incessant questions and hero worship. And a three year-old and an infant merely add to the chaos when Wolfe has to change diapers and track down wayward toddlers. Wolfe does find an ally in school principal Claire Fletcher (Lauren Graham), but even on school grounds he ends up with another problem to deal with, this one in the person of tough guy Vice Principal Murney (Brad Garrett). Of course, while all of these things are pressing on him, Wolfe must also protect everyone from the bad guys who are sure to show up.
The Pacifier is a Disney film which gives some insight from the beginning into the target market of the movie. The fact that it's aimed squarely at the younger set is an odd choice—at the least!—for Diesel, but at least it explains the prevalence of poop and fart jokes. It doesn't explain, however, how it is that so many (too many, in fact) opportunities for humor both slapstick and otherwise are missed. That's due both to a script that's just plain awful, and directing that lives down to the level of the script. It merely adds insult to already grievous injury when the movie includes some of the worst blue screen work I've ever seen.
Vin Diesel looks great, but doesn't come off well at all. He doesn't have any flair for comedy whatsoever, although in all fairness I don't doubt that his exaggerated mugging is in large part due to the terrible direction and sub-par editing of the film. Carol Kane is good, but you won't see her do anything you haven't seen her do a hundred times before (the poor woman has been typecast as the ditzy foreigner forever, I think). Lauren Graham seems almost embarrassed to be in the film, and I don't blame her. Faith Ford plays the perky gal she always plays and is thankfully in very few scenes. Meanwhile, Brad Garrett apparently threw himself wholeheartedly into making a complete ass out of himself. He, at least, is successful.
The one bright spot in the movie is the performance of Morgan York. She's not just cute, but funny; and she shows a decent presence onscreen. She likely has a future despite her appearance in this movie. The other actors may have done some damage to theirs simply by being in proximity to this mess.
POLITICAL NOTES: You'd think in a film with foreign nationals kidnapping American scientists; with well-funded bad guys attempting to steal secrets vital to national security; and with top-notch American military specialists getting into the mix; there'd be something political here. There's not. The only real politics I saw here was a politically correct assignment of villainy, and the very real danger that Switzerland will drop its neutrality to fight back against its bank authorities being depicted as such bumblers.
FAMILY SUITABILITY: The Pacifier is rated PG for "action violence, language, [and] rude humor." Everything that I saw was so over-the-top that I can't imagine anyone older than, say, six would actually buy into it. Certainly, the average six year-old would find the film a lot more amusing than I did purely from the standpoint of the aforementioned poop and fart humor. I found little to like about The Pacifier (although there's a scene between Morgan York and Vin Diesel having to do with his muscular physique that actually did make me laugh), but I have to confess I'm not entirely sure about the reception the movie will get from the kids it's apparently meant to entertain. On the one hand, the large number of children in the audience during the showing I saw were quiet and thus attentive. On the other hand, they were just plain quiet. You know your own kids, so this one's your call. But for everyone else, I can't recommend The Pacifier on any level at all.
*** 1/2 out of ****
I hadn't heard much about The Jacket, and so wasn't really planning on buying a ticket. But then I saw a review of the film in People magazine. Some years ago, the same People reviewer brought a wonderful little indie flick entitled Memento to my attention. When her review of The Jacket indicated that people would either fail to understand it or would compare it with Memento, my mind was made up: I had to see The Jacket.
Jack Starks (Adrian Brody) is an American Army officer fighting in the Gulf War in 1991. When he's grievously injured, he's sent back home to Vermont to recover. After some nine months, Jack's body has healed completely, but he continues to suffer from shock-related amnesia. After his release from the hospital, Jack hitchhikes from place to place, apparently trying to jog his memory and determine what to do with the rest of his life. During the course of his wanderings, Jack happens across a woman and her young daughter stranded by the side of the road. Jack immediately becomes drawn to the child, and he gives her his dog tags before the pair drive away.
Jack remembers the mother and child clearly, but draws a complete blank when it comes to the incident that lands him in court on charges he's killed a police officer. Found not guilty by reason of insanity, Jack is committed to Alpine Grove, a facility for the criminally insane. While he's there, he meets Dr. Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who gently tries to explain to him that many of his memories and his explanations are merely symptoms of the delusions from which he's suffering. Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson), on the other hand, finds Jack to be a prime candidate for his experimental therapies. After pumping Jack full of hallucinogenic drugs, Dr. Becker and his team bind Jack into a straight jacket and close him into a cadaver drawer in the hospital morgue.
Jack first suffers from flashbacks to his Gulf War experience, but then suddenly finds himself wide awake and lucid some years in the future. While he's there, he meets a pretty girl (Keira Knightley) with a bizarre connection to his past. He also learns that, just a few days from when he's first put in the drawer, he dies. So Jack scrambles both in the present and in the perceived future to learn everything he can about himself and about what happened —or will happen—to him at Alpine Grove. But will it be enough to change the past and thus the future? And can Jack survive something that, in one timeline at least, has already happened?
The Jacket offers an interesting premise, particularly concerning what's real and what isn't. It's also a heart-rending glimpse into the life of a man who is caught up, through no fault of his own, in an overwhelming current of events that are largely beyond his control. Adrian Brody is a terrific actor, and he certainly shows that off here. Although there are times he's perhaps a little more innocent than such a man would certainly be, it's impossible not to feel Jack's pain and horror as the story unwinds. The strength of those feelings are due mainly to Brody's considerable abilities. Jennifer Jason Leigh seems somehow superficial, but Kris Kristofferson is surprising as a doctor who is eminently capable of overriding his own conscience. Keira Knightley is uneven, though on balance does some nice work here.
As in Memento, however, the real star of The Jacket is the script. It's creative, it's well crafted, and it delivers sentiments that matter at a deep and emotional level. The direction and editing actually enhance the script without overwhelming it, and the cinematography adds to the ambiance with its washed out winter scenes and its matter-of-fact depictions of war, desperation, and poverty. The Jacket isn't entirely a happy film, but it's a very good one.
POLITICAL NOTES: Although there's no really obvious comment on the Gulf War, there is unquestionably an indictment of mental health care, at least as it once might have been. The use of the criminally insane for experimental treatments is defended by Dr. Becker with the claim that he didn't choose his subjects; rather, they were sent to him. And certainly the prevalence of drugging patients into near catatonia was, and perhaps still is, common. (Some years ago when I was a news journalist, I was given behind the scenes access to an institution for the criminally insane. It was, to put it mildly, a real eye-opener; and I can vouch for the fact that much of the setting for The Jacket is authentic.) The point that Jack—and thus the movie—tries to make when he speaks to Dr. Becker is that he's not a subject, but a patient, and that Becker isn't just a scientist, but a doctor. I agree.
FAMILY SUITABILITY: The Jacket is rated R for "violence, language, and brief sexuality/nudity." This is not a film for children. Not only is its construction complicated enough that they'd not be able to follow it, but it's also unabashedly graphic in many of its scenes. As a movie for film fans, The Jacket has much to recommend it from an editing and acting standpoint. As a film for movie fans, The Jacket offers suspense, anguish, surprises, and a feeling at the end of the movie that will likely not leave you anytime soon.
Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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