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Pacifying America: The Pacifier *

It’s official.  The American public has no taste.  How else does one explain the success of The Pacifier, one of the worst scripts ever put to film? 

It somehow managed to beat Be Cool, Hitch and Diary of a Mad Black Woman.  Its success is further proof, if any is needed, of  William Goldman’s famous declaration that, in Hollywood, nobody knows anything.

In fact, marketing execs know a lot, too much about how to lure unsuspecting audiences into the multiplex.  They also know that our standards ain’t what they used to be; we’ll see anything if our kids will like it.

The ultimate cross-over film, The Pacifier has it all: wealthy white people, a sexy teen, and a macho multi-cultural plot device.  To succeed today, a movie has to  have crossover appeal; it isn’t just middle class white people going to the movies anymore – there are lots of different ethnic groups ready to spend money – and he with the most diverse cast wins. 

In fact, the diversity of The Pacifier is the best thing about it. And its premise is decent enough: a Navy S.E.A.L. officer Shane Wolf (Diesel) loses a man he was supposed to rescue and thus becomes indebted to the man’s family, a gaggle of ill-behaved children who must endure life without their beloved father. Chaos ensues.

Diesel is put into awkward situations, the least of which is the overused soiled diaper joke.  It doesn’t take long to figure out that men wrote this screenplay, specifically, the writing team of Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant.  To them, the hardest thing about taking care of kids is getting shat or peed upon by an infant.  Why is that the only joke writers can come up with about caretaking a baby?

As Shane attempts to apply his military training to raising  a family, we are yet again confronted with the insulting idea that anybody put in charge of a family would be better than the mother – anyone off the street, in fact.  All it takes is a fresh perspective.  This is enough to make most hard-working parents want to rip their hair out strand by strand – or better yet, rip Vin Diesel’s hair out, if he had hair, which he doesn’t.

Of course, Shane rights all of the wrongs in the kids’ lives, from teaching the little girl who gets bullied by boys how to fight like a ninja, or helping one “theatrical” boy to quit wrestling and find his inner theater geek, or empowering the teenage daughter to dump her loser boyfriend and learn how to drive a car.  It’s all so nifty once Shane comes on the scene.

The only real point to the film, of course, is the supposed hilarity of putting Vin Diesel in comical situations where he gets to play dad for a while.  It isn’t that hilarious, truth be told.  And Diesel, as inexplicably charismatic as he is, has but one facial expression, and it always seems to come a beat too late.

When they introduce a very lame romance with the principal of the high school (Lauren Graham), it’s impossible to tell how much Shane likes her, even though we suspect he probably does.  But Diesel’s poker face prevents us from the enjoyment of experiencing anything he might be feeling. For all intents and purposes, he’s a robot.  He would have made a great terminator.

Diesel continues to pattern his career after our governor’s – from internally vacant action star to parody of self in family comedy – can we expect politics in his future too? 

But hey, it’s 2005 and you don’t have to know how to act, nor write, nor direct to make a cool twenty million on your opening weekend.  You just have to know how to market it to the right people at the right time. My six year-old daughter already knew more about the film without seeing it than I did –their target was completely saturated.  It was the family movie to see over the weekend.  And perhaps it’s not necessary to moan and groan about the new world order but to accept it – the advertisers have become smarter than the consumer, which wasn’t always the case. 

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