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View from the Couch

The Game Plan, 3:10 to Yuma, more


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THE GAME PLAN (2007). After his film career began floundering, action star Vin Diesel turned to the family audience with The Pacifier and ended up with a $113 million hit. This past fall, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson similarly threw himself on the mercy of the small fry and their easy-to-please parental units with The Game Plan, an innocuous mediocrity that turned into an $89 million success. Rocky stars as Joe Kingman, a narcissistic quarterback who's blindsided when 8-year-old Peyton (Madison Pettis) shows up on his doorstep claiming to be his daughter. Livin' la vida loca with a lavishly designed bachelor pad, a European model for a girlfriend, and a flashy sports car to complement his lifestyle of the rich and famous, Joe learns that in order to become an effective parent, he has to accept a pink tutu being placed on his bulldog, his football trophies getting BeDazzled, and his mode of transport getting downsized to a station wagon. Considering that The Game Plan holds next to no surprises for anyone who's ever seen a movie before, a 90-minute length would have been plenty; instead, this gets mercilessly stretched out to 110 minutes. The extra footage allows the mind to wander and mull over related topics; for instance, since Kingman plays quarterback for the fictitious Boston Rebels and has to contend with a child from a former lover, is this a dig at insufferable New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, whose double-dipping among women has led to out-of-wedlock woes? And was there ever a chance that Kingman's bulldog might have fallen into the hands of Michael Vick? And will a soggy comedy ever resist the slightly racist urge to include a muscular, fearsome black man (White America, lock your doors!) who turns out to be a crybaby by the end? (In addition to Kingman's teammate here, see also Ving Rhames in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Michael Clarke Duncan in See Spot Run, etc.). Pettis mostly relies on calculated precociousness, but Johnson actually proves to be Rock-solid as Kingman, displaying modest but sufficient amounts of charm and comic timing.

DVD extras include nine deleted scenes, a bloopers reel hosted by Marv Albert, a 20-minute making-of featurette, and two SportsCenter pieces (one fictitious).

Movie: **

Extras: ***

GOOD LUCK CHUCK (2007). Upchuck would have been a more accurate title for this nauseating effort – not only does its mere existence instantly elevate the already high standing of such accomplished "raunchy comedies" as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and There's Something About Mary, it also makes them seem as refined as an Ernst Lubitsch farce from the 1930s by comparison. Dane Cook, whose popularity continues to elude me, plays Chuck, who was long ago placed under a hex which states that whenever he sleeps with a woman, she will then marry the next man who woos her. This allows Chuck to have sex with all sorts of buxom babes (and, in a couple of cruel sequences straight out of Norbit, obese ones as well) without worrying about commitment issues. But he grows tired of such a shallow lifestyle, especially after meeting Cam (the eternally vapid Jessica Alba), a klutzy penguin specialist he's afraid he'll eventually lose to the curse. The central premise is no more farfetched than those exhibited in such frothy comedies as 13 Going on 30 and Big, yet Good Luck Chuck forgoes quirky charm and endearing characters in order to focus on bottom-of-the-barrel gross-out gags involving sex with grapefruits, sex with a stuffed penguin and sex with a three-breasted woman. Cook and Alba generate about as much chemistry as a mongoose paired with a rattlesnake, while Dan Fogler, as Chuck's foul-mouthed best friend, competed with License to Wed / Nancy Drew's Josh Flitter as last year's most obnoxious movie sidekick.

Extras on the unrated DVD edition include audio commentary by Cook, director Mark Helfrich, writer Josh Stolberg and producer Mike Karz, an alternate ending, a "sex matrix" offering snippets from the film's various copulation scenes, and a featurette on creating a three-breasted woman.

Movie: *

Extras: **

SYDNEY WHITE (2007). The title Sydney White only tells half the story: Since this is a modern-day version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a more apt marquee filler would have been Sydney White and the Seven Dorks (reportedly the shooting title). Yet whatever its moniker, the news flash is that this mallrat bait frequently rises above its formulaic trappings. Here, our heroine, far more resourceful than the helpless Snow White from the Disney cartoon, is Sydney White (Amanda Bynes), who trots off to college to join the sorority to which her late mother belonged. But said sorority is headed by a frigid blonde beauty (Sara Paxton) who takes an instant dislike to Sydney and does everything to discredit her in social circles. Eventually, Sydney ends up rooming with the campus geeks, seven misfits who benefit by her presence; meanwhile, a prince shows up in the form of a fraternity president (Matt Long) who responds to her warmth and quirky sense of humor. That a hunky frat boy would show empathy for the college nerds – let alone date beneath his Greek status – is a more fantastical notion than anything dreamed up by Walt Disney, Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm, but swallow that contrivance and the rest largely falls into place. Too often, scripter Chad Creasey grows slack with the satire, and what's left is a standard teen comedy, often no better and no worse than others that have glutted the DVD shelves. But when Creasey's game is on, the movie is clever and charming. The updates to the magic mirror and the poison apple are both inspired, yet what really won me over was the spin on "Heigh-Ho." And no, I won't reveal it here.

DVD extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel and short behind-the-scenes featurettes totaling a half-hour.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: **

3:10 TO YUMA (2007). 3:10 to Yuma proves to be a rarity among remakes. It doesn't slavishly copy the original, nor does it update it for modern times. It's respectful of its predecessor, and when it does make changes to the existing template, they aren't preposterous or pandering – rather, they merely take another logical path than the one employed in the previous version. Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, the 1957 3:10 to Yuma retains its status as a solid Western, typical of the psychologically rooted oaters that emerged in force during that decade. Adding roughly a half-hour to the original's 92-minute running time, this take, directed by Walk the Line's James Mangold, includes more characters and more action sequences, but it takes care not to water down the battle of wills between its two leading characters. In Glenn Ford's old role, Russell Crowe plays Ben Wade, a notorious outlaw who's finally captured by the authorities and scheduled to be transferred via train to the prison in Yuma, Arizona. Dan Evans (Christian Bale in the Van Heflin part) is a rancher by nature – he's so mild-mannered that his own wife (Gretchen Mol) and son (Logan Lerman) are often disappointed in him – but because he's about to lose his home and cattle, he agrees to help transport Wade for $200. Yet while Wade may appear to be the captive, he's in many ways the one in charge, charming Dan's family, killing the armed escorts who rub him the wrong way, and keeping Dan on edge with his taunts and bribes. Crowe pours on his bad-boy charisma as Ben Wade, milking it for maximum effect, while Bale embodies the noblest traits that can possibly be found in such a disreputable arena as the Old West. The strong supporting cast is headed up by Peter Fonda as Byron McElroy, a leathery bounty hunter whose past assignments (including the massacre of Native American women and children) qualifies him as one sleazy rider.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Mangold, seven deleted scenes, a 20-minute making-of featurette, and a short piece discussing Western history versus Western myth.

Movie: ***

Extras: **1/2


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