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The Game Plan

release date 01/01/1970

Although the setting and many of the underlying themes are contemporary - the corruptive allure of celebrity, the pressures of single parenthood, rampant materialism - The Game Plan is, at its soft, gooey heart, an old-fashioned Disney yarn extolling the virtues of the family unit.

Once again, the clash between the generations - which energized Freaky Friday, The Parent Trap et al - provides the comedic spark, pitting a hulking American footballer against his winsome eight-year-old daughter. Humour is gentle and inoffensive, erring towards familiarity. When the cheeky tyke takes a bath, she invariably empties two bottles of bubble bath into the water unleashing great clouds of white froth.

The father's beloved bulldog, Spike, dons a tutu and nail polish to mirror the youngster's love of ballet and when the girl's end of term recital finds itself short of a strapping male dancer, you know that the macho father will squeeze into lycra to save the day, demonstrating his tender, feminine side in the process. Wrestling star turned Hollywood action hero Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) demonstrates a flair for comedy, throwing himself into each misadventure with gusto, and there is a nice rapport with his diminutive and cute-as-a-button co-star, Madison Pettis. Joe Kingman (Johnson) is at top of his game. A superstar quarterback for the Boston Rebels, Joe is single-handedly guiding his team towards the NFL championship play-offs, albeit with his usual brand of arrogance on the field, making touchdowns when his teammates are clearly open to score.

His carefully ordered world comes crashing down when eight-year-old Peyton Kelly (Pettis) turns up on his doorstep. "We've never met before," grins the girl hopefully. "You're married to my mother, Sarah. My name's Peyton, I'm your daughter.

" Abandoned by her mother for two weeks, who is on humanitarian duties in Africa, Peyton needs somewhere to stay and Joe takes in the rosy-cheeked tyke, advised by his street-smart agent Stella (Kyra Sedgwick) that it would be a PR disaster to turn her away. At first, Joe struggles to adapt to parenthood, hoping to bully Peyton into submission by asking her to live by strict ground rules as if she were just another member of his squad. "This is your game plan - learn it, live it, love it," he barks. He also continues to pursue a party-going lifestyle and actually forgets about Peyton at one bash.

When the media threatens to eat him alive for his thoughtless behaviour, Joe goes on the offensive by attending ballet lessons with his little girl, where he strikes up a friendship with fiery-tempered teacher Monique Vasquez (Roselyn Sanchez). Joe struggles to meld personal and professional commitments. "I have an entire city depending on me," he tells Monique angrily. "You've got a daughter depending on you," she reminds him.

As the relationship between father and daughter blossoms, Joe realises that while he loves the game of American football, he loves Peyton even more. The Game Plan isn't shy about slathering on the mawkish sentiment, especially in the closing moments when Joe plays through the pain of an injury to guide the Rebels to their fairy-tale finale. "Daddy, you won the Championship," coos Peyton. Peyton, I've won much more than that," smarms Joe, emphasizing the message about responsible parenting.

In case the lesson of the day fails to hit home, screenwriters Nichole Millard and Kathryn Price ensure that Joe's good friend and teammate, Travis Sanders (Morris Chestnut), is a doting father who is constantly berating the quarterback for his selfishness and insensitivity. Fickman directs with a light touch, straining credibility as much as possible, especially in the ballet recital, which sees Joe transformed from lumbering oaf to graceful performer in the blink of an eye. The character's obsession with Elvis leads to an end credits cast sing-along to "Burning Love" and Johnson serenading Pettis on guitar with a slightly tuneless "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" As the brat quite rightly comments, "I think you're tone deaf and sound more like a wounded moose than The King.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2006, All Rights Reserved.

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