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Tooth Fairy

Like a Trip to the Dentist

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Once considered the heir to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action-hero mantle, Dwayne (formerly “The Rock”) Johnson turned away from action films to star in The Game Plan three years ago. A box-office success (if not a critical one), that film signaled Johnson’s willingness to take more family-friendly roles. He did just that with last year’s Race to Witch Mountain, and now again with Tooth Fairy, a fantasy-comedy once pegged for Schwarzenegger (he chose Last Action Hero instead).

Despite five credited screenwriters, Tooth Fairy falls short on laughs and action, ultimately delivering another underwhelming moviegoing experience that underutilizes Johnson’s range and physical talents.

Tooth Fairy centers on Derek Thompson (Johnson), a minor league hockey player at the end of his professional career. A one-time scorer who injured his shoulder in a hockey incident, Thompson has been relegated to on-ice enforcer. Due to his propensity for knocking out his opponents’ teeth, Johnson has been dubbed the “Tooth Fairy” by his fans.

Despite a positive, long-term relationship with Carly (Ashley Judd), a single mom with two children, Randy (Chase Ellison) and Tess (Destiny Grace Whitlock), Thompson just can’t look on the bright side of life. When a young fan asks him for advice, Thompson calls the boy’s dream of becoming a professional hockey player unrealistic and suggests he give up.

Thompson’s negative attitude sets up the expected character arc from bitter dream-killer to content dream fulfiller, but it takes a solid 90-plus minutes to get there. One night, Thompson awakens to discover a summons from the Department of Dissemination of Disbelief (yes, that’s as clever as Tooth Fairy gets) under his pillow. In Fairy Land, he’s assigned a caseworker, Tracy (Stephen Merchant), and meets the Fairy Godmother, Lily (Julie Andrews).

Lily punishes him with two weeks of Tooth Fairy duty. Since he’s on call 24/7, Tooth Fairy duty happens at the most inopportune time repeatedly to rapidly diminishing returns, until, of course, it’s time to wrap up the major and minor storylines in a wildly optimistic, dreams-can-happen ending.

Tooth Fairy wastes Johnson’s talents at almost every turn. A linebacker at the University of Miami before turning professional wrestler, Johnson has a natural athleticism that could have been easily exploited here, but a third football-themed film in four years (The Game Plan, Gridiron Gang) probably seemed liked one football-themed film too much. Instead, the Tooth Fairy’s producers made Johnson’s character a hockey player. That wouldn’t have been too much of a problem if Johnson could skate. From the limited time onscreen, he can’t — at least not convincingly. Johnson is shot from behind or in tight close-ups, thus negating one of his strengths: his believability as an athlete.

Under-using Johnson’s physical skills is a minor problem, relative to the soporific screenplay that went through two teams of screenwriters, plus a fifth writer and another who received a “story” credit. With so many writers involved, it’s disappointing (if not surprising) that many of the jokes they give Johnson and the supporting cast are uninspired. They range from obvious puns or word gags to derogatory putdowns, mostly of Tracy by Thompson, who mocks Tracy’s name and his clumsiness).

The obligatory Johnson-in-a-pink-tutu scene makes an early appearance (he switches to a more masculine powder blue almost immediately. The occasional pratfall and Thompson’s uninspired attempts at tooth retrieval fill out Tooth Fairy’s running time.

Thankfully, Johnson has promised to take a break from family-friendly fare like Tooth Fairy for the more adult-oriented action genre. Johnson’s fans can only applaud the decision. Hopefully, he won’t be tempted to return to family-oriented comedy for the next two or three years.