The Pacifier (7/10)

by Tony Medley

This had all the indications of a long evening. The story, a tough, U.S. Navy S.E.A.L., has to take over as babysitter for five children, ranging from an infant in arms to two feisty, troubled teenagers while their mother goes off for awhile. Add to that, it‘s directed by Adam Shankman, who was responsible for “Bringing Down the House” (2004), not one of my favorite films.

Against all odds, this is a delightful, involving comedy with a little suspense and action thrown in. Vin Diesel is surprisingly sensitive and comedic as hard-as-nails warrior Shane Wolfe. He’s ably supported by the children, notably 14-year-old Seth (Max Thieriot), the troubled teenager who wants to be an actor, teen rebel Zoe (Brittany Snow, of TV’s “American Dreams”) who doesn’t like Shane messing up her life, and 8-year-old Ninja-wannabe Lulu (Morgan York).

For me, however, one of the keys to the movie was Carol Kane, who plays Helga, the family’s eastern European nanny. Although Helga is only in the first part of the film, her role is crucial in establishing this as a real comedy and not just nonsense. She has a part that could be absurd, but in her hands it is very funny, except for one pratfall down the stairs that I thought ill-advised to show to children. Someone falling down stairs like that could easily die or be horribly injured for life. That’s not something that should be shown to children as comedic, especially since the fall was as a result of the children’s prank.

Another key to the film is provided by Brad Garrett, better known as Ray Romano’s older brother on TV’s “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Garrett plays one of the heavies, Vice Principal Murney, who picks on Seth and gets his comeuppance in a wrestling confrontation with Shane. The Vice Principal is delightfully hateful.

One thing I didn’t understand is why they changed the format of the marching song, “Sound Off.” When you are marching drill in the service, the song goes,

            Sound off, one, two;

            Sound off, three, four;

            Cadence Count, one, two, three, four

            One, two, THREE FOUR!

In the movie, however, Shane has the children sing it as, “Sound off, one two, three four.” For anyone like Shane it would be an unlikely rendering. But it would be naïve to expect any young Hollywood writer or director to know anything about drill in the U. S. Armed Services.

This movie, approximately 90 minutes long, held my attention, kept me smiling, and even had a nice climax. At my screening, which had a lot of children even though it was an evening event, the audience gave it enthusiastic appreciative applause after it ended.

March 1, 2005