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By Stina Chyn | October 1, 2007

Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson used to play football in high school and college, so it made sense that he was an ideal choice to play a juvenile detention center counselor in “Gridiron Gang.” His character, Sean Porter, convinced a group of headstrong young boys how to function in society and feel good about themselves (through football, of course). In Andy Fickman’s football comedy “The Game Plan,” the Rock is again learning and teaching the value football and life—this time, the role takes him from the sidelines and puts him on the field.

As Joe Kingman, the star quarterback of the fictional team the Boston Rebels, the only obstacle in his way of having the perfect career is a championship ring. The game sequence that opens the film indicates, however, that he and his teammates are well on their way to laying their hands on the grand prize. There’s just one minor problem: Joe is a father and he never knew it. Within forty-eight hours of leading his team to a victory that allows the Rebels to continue to the playoffs, an eight year-old girl named Peyton (Madison Pettis) appears at his front door and informs him that she is his daughter and he must take care of her for a month while her mother does humanitarian work in Africa.

Were Kingman in any other profession (law, medicine, import/export, marketing, biochemistry), having to play the part of “daddy” wouldn’t be so disruptive. It would still be burdensome, but he wouldn’t otherwise need to worry about letting a slew of other people down, specifically, a professional football franchise and even an entire city. The people most affected by Joe’s new parental responsibilities are his teammates, including Sanders (Morris Chestnut), Webber (Brian J. White), Cooper (Hayes MacArthur), and Monroe (Jamal Duff), and his agent Stella (Kyra Sedgwick).

The previews gave me the impression that “The Game Plan” would incorporate elements from the romantic-comedy, particularly in terms of potential subplots dealing with the identity of Peyton’s mother or finding a new mother figure. The love subplot isn’t romantic in this case, though. There might be some mutual crushing between Joe and Peyton’s ballet teacher Monique (Roselyn Sanchez), but it is largely insubstantial. The affection Joe Kingman expresses for another human being is of the nuclear family sort. Consequently, there is so much cheesiness in this film, reeking pungently in a few of the heart-to-heart scenes between the Rock and Madison.

Like many sports movies where the protagonist is forced to change his attitude in order to win games or to redeem himself, “The Game Plan” gives its quarterback the opportunity to learn how to put other people’s needs before his own, how to be humble, and to appreciate everything in his life. Being a father leaves Kingman with no other choice but to become a much better person.

Nicole Millard, Kathryn Price, and Audrey Wells are the minds behind this comedy’s story (screenplay by Millard and Price). It’s possible that in an effort to deviate from the standard sports film formula, the two characters that are “supposed to” get together do not. More importantly, though, “The Game Plan” re-conceptualizes or repackages conventional perceptions of football (less as a sport and more as a conduit for physiological movement through space). There is no mentioning in the trailers that on a narrative and thematic level, a softened gender war would ensue: ballet is a sport, ballet dancers are athletes, and football players can be graceful too. Whether or not this juxtaposition and argument works ideologically is debatable and cannot be adequately addressed here.

Satires and parodies of sports provide a safe and superficially inconsequential place for combining comedy and the world of athletic competition. Watching players face inconvenience after inconvenience can be funny. “The Game Plan” is no “Heaven Can Wait,” “The Last Boy Scout” or “Baseketball” in terms of biting humor or cultural criticism, but amidst the news-making events that have befallen the NFL in 2007 thus far, it is certainly an amusing and timely distraction.

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