The Pacifier

Would the owners of Brad Garrett’s self-esteem, Brittany Snow’s self-respect, Lauren Graham’s humanity and Vin Diesel’s pride please report to the Disney Studios? Disney is apparently finished raping them for the sake of their latest so called “quality family project” and has no further use for them. You can find them out back next to the Pixar contract and what’s left of Walt’s dignity. Most of Walt Disney’s greatest stories began with “once upon a time”. Well, I’ve got one for you. Once upon a time the Walt Disney Studios made great family films. In fact, the very phrase “Disney family film” meant cinema gold. You were guaranteed a movie everyone in the family could watch. The younger kids got something safe and fun but it was enjoyable enough that the older kids and adults were entertained, not patronized. It was a grand tradition that has found its way straight into the toilet over the last many years. The Pacifier is only the latest example of just how low Disney can go.

Shane Wolfe is a Navy Seal assigned to protect a group of five children whose lives are at risk from mercenaries looking for top secret technology the children’s recently murdered father had developed. The plot is a simple one, full of opportunity for clever comedy, exciting action and tender, family drama. The movie that was made misses that simplicity completely. It would seem that writers Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant and director Adam Shankman intentionally set out to make the worst conceivable version of that plot. They succeeded in ways that boggle the mind.

The movie stars Vin Diesel, Brad Garrett, Faith Ford and a host of other funny folks including some fairly talented up and coming child actors. Brittany Snow plays the oldest of the five kids, followed in line by Max Thrieriot and Morgan York. The trio are blessed with the opportunity to provide the movie with its only redeeming moments and all three have potential for good careers in cinema, provided they can avoid the likes of Shankman in the future.

The most underrated but overused performer in the movie is a duck. The painful truth of that sentence alone makes me want to stop writing this review right now. Somewhere along the way the film’s marketers saw the opportunity to pitch the story as a ninety minute war between Vin’s character and the little quacker. I imagine they got the idea after seeing the bird steal every single scene he’s in. Didn’t anyone every tell Diesel that acting with animals is nothing but trouble?

Only two of the actors look like they’re having any fun, and they have their reasons. Carol Kane has a brief role as the children’s nanny. She obviously signed on for the two minute sequence where she gets to kick the crap out of Diesel just before her character abandons the unruly family for good. As the nanny’s taxi pulls away, leaving the Navy Seal behind to fend for himself, Kane tosses out a classic nanny-nanny-boo-boo. I don’t think she was acting. The other performer who seems to enjoy himself is Scott Thompson who gets to dress up like Joel Schumacher and ad-lib crazy lines for three minutes and then disappear. The rest of the cast isn’t so lucky.

There’s hardly a scene in the film that isn’t reduced to petty humor and the pitiable actors know it. Diesel, Garrett and the rest are completely wasted on this film, and you can see the pain in their eyes with each line they have to deliver. Every single gag is forced, kind of like the laughter I tried mustering to acknowledge the suffering of the poor folks in the cast. That laughter never came, although a few times I caught myself chuckling at Shankman’s more obvious directorial blunders, the kinds of things kids making home video movies are able to avoid.

There’s a fine line between great comedy and lame absurdity. Where one finds that line is completely irrelevant in the case of The Pacifier, The film is so far into absurd territory that it’s a wonder the project ever made it to the screen. I would say shame on you to the executives behind the film for allowing things to get so out of control, but I suspect their meddling created its fair share of the movie’s fatal flaws.

Family films don’t have to be this painful. Disney used to be the king of classic moviemaking but guys like Lennon, Garant and Shankman are driving it into the ground. How would Walt feel about that? To quote the movie, it’s the kind of thing that would make him rise from the grave just so he could have a heart attack again. Sadly enough, the redemption of The Pacifier comes in the form of its DVD release. Most of the bonus features are easily dismissed, but one stands out: the writer/director commentary. In a depressing way it saves this package from being utterly worthless, but I get ahead of myself.

Sound doesn’t usually jump out at me as a particularly noteworthy feature on family films, but it’s an exception this time. I feel silly saying it, but the digital sound is unbelievably clear. Too bad the only things to hear are the abysmal dialogue, schizophrenic sound track and that dad gummed duck’s incessant quacking.

Vin Diesel and Brad Garrett each get their own little talking head special feature, highlighting their characters and their work on the film. Their interviews are interspersed with their most embarrassing moments from the movie. As you watch you come to realize the poor guys must have signed on the dotted line without realizing what nightmarish surprises Shankman’s perverse sense of humor had in store.

There’s a brief gag reel which is just not that funny. Apparently the crew thought it was hilarious watching the duck trying to eat a piece of baloney so we get to see plenty of that. Most of the reel, however, bounces back and forth between examples of Vin Diesel’s fascination with babies and Shankman’s complete lack of understanding when it comes to working with kids.

The real gem bonus feature is the commentary in which Shankman, Garant and Lennon play Mystery Science Theatre 3000 with their own movie. Their sarcastic comments are absolutely hilarious, poking fun at each glaring error and flaw in the film. It is indeed funny until you realize that these are the bozos who were responsible for making the film a success. Instead, they come across as having intentionally sabotaged their own project, flaunting their terrible choices and having a good laugh at it as well. It’s simultaneously entertaining, maddening and heart breaking and almost makes the movie a must see just so you can revel in this paradoxical shame of a commentary.

Unless you have a cruel sadistic side or children capable of ignoring everything in a movie except its uniquely entertaining fauna, skip this disc. Don’t even rent it. Don’t give Disney the satisfaction. You’ll be glad you didn’t.