With his cartoonishly buff physique, his unwavering sincerity and geniality, and his happy willingness to play the goofball, it's easy to see why young audiences love Dwayne Johnson, aka The Artist Formerly Known as The Rock. What's less fathomable, especially considering Johnson's continually questionable taste in material, is why I still love the guy.
To be sure, my feelings were (again) put to the test in Tooth Fairy, a gentle kiddie comedy about a professional hockey player who - for reasons we really don't want to get into - is forced into a two-week stint as a winged sprite. It's one of those family-friendly slapsticks in which the inspiration pretty much begins and ends with the poster, but even granting the film its ridiculous one-joke premise, director Michael Lembeck's latest is oftentimes irritating to the point of distraction. Boasting more awful puns on the words "tooth" and "fairy" than you would've thought possible - even given the movie's employment of five (five!) screenwriters - the dialogue rarely rises above risible, and Lembeck's helming is so maladroit that he kills jokes even before they're revealed as jokes. (In one sequence, Johnson addresses a minor character as "a hobbit," and it takes a full 20 seconds for the director to show us why: It turns out he's short. Ha ha.) Throw in the sentimental sub-plot about Johnson learning to curtail his vanity and care for others, the middling-to-poor visuals, and Ashley Judd as the token girlfriend who thinks Johnson's mysterious disappearances have something to do with his fear of commitment, and you'd have every right to expect Tooth Fairy to be as much fun as a root canal.
It's more like a really thorough dental cleaning: tedious, yes, but not altogether unpleasant. Every once in a while, as if by accident, a clever line sneaks its way into the script, and the scenes that find Johnson bonding with Judd's moody 13-year-old son (a first-rate Chase Ellison) have a relaxed friendliness and warmth; they seem to have been spliced in from a different movie altogether. Plus, there are performers on hand that make even the lamest material seem borderline witty. God knows that Stephen Merchant (co-creator of the BBC's The Office and Extras) deserves better than the desperately obvious gags he's given here, but he's still able to score laughs through inflection and his creepy/funny Joker grin, and Julie Andrews even manages to make some of her groan-inducing wordplay amusing, offhandedly tossing off an invitation for Johnson to join his co-workers for a night singing "fairy-oke." (Billy Crystal, meanwhile, appears to have ad-libbed most of his cameo role, and delivers perhaps his most welcome turn since The Princess Bride.)
And, of course, there's Johnson, amiable and alert and looking like he's having a ball in his pretty pink tutu with matching tights. Nearly everything about Tooth Fairy's advance publicity screamed "abandon hope, all ye who enter here." But I'd be lying if I said my interest wasn't piqued by Johnson's participation, and the actor - who might be incapable of being less than thoroughly appealing onscreen - exudes such infectious delight in his role as Movie Star that he even makes an outing as potentially noxious as this one a decidedly easy sit.
Well, it's official: Thanks to the medical drama Extraordinary Measures, Harrison Ford has finally turned into Al Pacino. Not the feverish, intense Pacino of Dog Day Afternoon and the Godfather films, and not the nuanced, haunted star of Donnie Brasco and Angels in America, but the barking, hammy, I'M-GONNA-YELL-AND-PUNCTUATE-MY-YELLING-WITH-ITALICIZED-YELLING! Pacino of Scent of a Woman; Ford's every incensed outburst here should be followed by a throaty exclamation of "HOO-AH!!!" As Robert Stonehill, the research scientist dedicated to finding a cure for the degenerative illness Pompe's disease, Ford starts off well, nicely underplaying an eccentric, humorless man with no time for chit-chat. But as the movie progresses and Stonehill's ire reaches a boiling point, the actor starts bellowing "I'm not here to cross every 't' and dot every 'i'!" and "This is bullshit!" and (my favorite) "Nobody's gonna tell me how to run my lab!!!", and grows as hopelessly mannered, and silly, as he was in his recent, loony action thriller Firewall. At exactly the moments when Extraordinary Measures should be at its most forceful, you're actually hard-pressed not to giggle, though I'll admit that Ford's nearly satiric tirades are about the only things of genuine interest in the whole of this well-meaning, sadly unconvincing offering.
Director Tom Vaughan's film, which concerns a business executive (played by a distractingly doughy Brendan Fraser) seeking a cure for his two gravely sick children, is fairly insightful about medical-research protocol and bureaucratic red tape, and occasionally touching. (We're given a lovely close-up of Fraser's hospitalized daughter, her piercing stare suggesting the life force buried within her atrophied body.) Yet Extraordinary Measures still feels fraudulent. The buddy-flick camaraderie/one-upmanship between Ford and Fraser - cutely nicknamed "Doc" and "Jersey" - is too formulaic and sitcom-convenient to register as anything but a screenwriting conceit.
And while the story's arc is familiar from any number of shallow disease-of-the-week TV movies, that wouldn't be so bothersome if Vaughan's rhythms and compositions weren't so slack. It seems that the least you can ask for from a movie of this type is a good tug as your heartstrings - even a manipulated tug - and about halfway through the movie, I realized that I was waiting for one scene that felt emotionally honest. I was still waiting when the end credits rolled. Ford's histrionics aside, Extraordinary Measures mostly eschews melodrama, but there's not much of any other kind of drama to be found, either; it's competent and earnest and dull, and just slightly less resonant than Tooth Fairy.
The apocalyptic thriller Legion finds a motley assemblage of stereotypes warding off the Rapture at a Mojave Desert truck stop, and it's clear from the start that these folks aren't exactly Mensa members - while staring open-mouthed at a television's "This is not a test" warning, one of them astutely opines, "I don't think this is a test." Still, there's undeniable fun to be had in watching dipsticks do battle with winged assassins, lobotomized assailants, and grannies who crawl on the ceiling, and director Scott Stewart's bloody offering provides about as much fun as any unevenly paced, incoherently scripted vehicle of its sort could. Like many of the film's characters, this tale of angels sent to Earth to exact God's revenge dies a painful death in its protracted midsection (no heartlessly nasty genre pic should feature this many heart-to-heart conversations), the dialogue is your standard tough-guy blather, and the ending is both a let-down and a cheat. But with a cast including a surprising number of top-tier talents - among them Paul Bettany, Lucas Black, Adrianne Palicki, Charles S. Dutton, Kate Walsh, Jon Tenney, and Dennis Quaid... the latter of whose talents, admittedly, are starting to grate - and some truly potent visual and aural treats, Legion is a pretty enjoyable bad movie. You probably won't buy a moment of it, but if you've been looking for a reason to sprint away from, rather than toward, a passing ice-cream truck, this is definitely the entertainment for you.