(by Dustin Putman
For those who have seen them, visions of 1991's underrated "Drop Dead Fred" and 1997's slight, whimsical "A Simple Wish" are inescapable while watching "Tooth Fairy," an inferior, made-by-committee studio product that took five scribes—Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel (2005's "Fever Pitch"), Joshua Sternin & Jeffrey Ventimilia (2004's "Surviving Christmas") and Randi Mayem Singer (1993's "Mrs. Doubtfire")—to write what amounts to "The Santa Clause 4: The Tooth Fairy Clause." As luck would have it, director Michael Lembeck previously helmed 2006's ghastly, superficial "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," and clearly he hasn't learned much about filmmaking in the interim. To be fair, though, not even Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino could save this screenplay, a comedic fantasy-meets-reality clash with little to no laughs, a distinctly unlikable lead character, and a premise that is so fundamentally flawed it renders the rest of the movie purely nonsensical. Article continues below
Minor league hockey player Derek Thompson (Dwayne Johnson), nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy" because of his penchant for knocking opponents' teeth out, is a miserable fellow who thinks nothing of destroying a young fan's dream of playing the sport professionally when he grows up. Prone to making more enemies than friends, he frequently gets into hot water with the coach (Barclay Hope) and feels his livelihood threatened when young, popular stud Mick Donnelly (Ryan Sheckler) joins the team. With his relationship to girlfriend Carly (Ashley Judd) and her children, teenage son Randy (Chase Ellison) and younger daughter Tess (Destiny Grace Whitlock), also on shaky ground due to his insensitivity, Derek is in dire need of taking a good, long look at the person he has become. Cue Lily the Head Fairy (Julie Andrews) and case worker Tracy (Stephen Merchant), who sentence Derek to a week of tooth fairy duty. Fitted with wings and a blue pajama costume—in a mix-up, he first turns up in a pink tutu and tights—Derek soon learns that sneaking into children's homes at night without causing a ruckus is easier said than done. Even more difficult is keeping Carly, her kids, and his teammates in the dark about his new job.
The ultimate trajectory that "Tooth Fairy" follows is obvious—Derek learns that dreams can come true with a little persistence and becomes a better man in the process—but his climactic redemption proves too little, too late for a protagonist who is close to repulsive in his conceited, dishonest, and downright cruel ways. Knocking the teeth out of people's mouths and being treated like it is something to be proud of, Derek also isn't above snatching Tess' money from under her pillow when she loses a tooth and using it to play poker with. Furthermore, his passive-aggressive nature time and again, belittling and yelling and crushing other people's hearts, is so overbearing that the darkness of his actions don't comfortably mesh for a second with the goofy plot and slapstick material.
The story is almost as troubling as Derek's personality, but for a whole different reason. Early on, it is clearly established that there really is no tooth fairy; when Tess wakes up to discover her tooth gone but no money in its place (as mentioned, Derek has taken it), mother Carly quickly pulls a bill out of her wallet below Tess' bed and tells her it must have fallen. When Derek almost lets the cat out of the bag, so to speak, it prompts an argument where Carly tells him she will decide when to let Tess know that there is no tooth fairy. Okay, fine, but then how does one explain the rest of the film, which portrays tooth fairies dutifully showing up to exchange money for teeth? If this is the case, then how come Carly has to put money under Tess' pillow? Does the tooth fairy not like the little darling or something? It's a plot hole so gaping and unwieldy that it makes it impossible to buy into the core premise. With a small country worth of screenwriters credited, did not a single one of them think about this key discrepancy?
Once pitted as the next great action star who then went on to shine in quirky character roles, Dwayne Johnson has recently sold his dignity by headlining a series of bad family movies (i.e., 2007's "The Game Plan," 2009's "Race to Witch Mountain"). "Tooth Fairy" is, thus far, his nadir, and he does himself little favor by mugging for most of the running time. Even more perplexing is the participation of Ashley Judd (2007's "Bug"), as Tess, and Julie Andrews (2004's "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement"), as Lily the Head Fairy. Judd amazingly hides her embarrassment and does what she can, but hers is a part written very thin. Andrews has even less to do. As Tracy, the case worker who takes on Derek and becomes little more than his verbal punching bag, British thesp Stephen Merchant gets his very first big screen role and runs with the part. He's got charm to spare. And, as Randy, Chase Ellison (2005's "Mysterious Skin") brings more to his archetypical character—that of the brooding teen who slowly warms to his mom's boyfriend—than one usually finds.
Moronic, pandering, and mean-spirited for long stretches, "Tooth Fairy" wavers between unpleasant (when Derek's internal ugliness externalizes), lame (the gags are predictable and poorly edited for comic potential), and incoherent (the contradictory narrative). Additionally, the insistence on including wordplays involving "tooth" are heinous ("You can't handle the tooth! The tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth!" Derek exclaims in the opening minutes). The finale, turning things all warm and fuzzy, goes overboard with a cloying scene set at a school talent show so sickly sweet it could give the viewer cavities. The movie, like Carly, lets Derek off the hook far too easily, and his moral turnaround is one that feels forced and implausible. In a sea of simple mediocrity on this January date, "Tooth Fairy" stands as the year's first outright bad picture. A trip to the dentist for major oral surgery sounds more appetizing than the thought of having to see it ever again.