'Tooth Fairy': A Root Canal, Minus The Laughing Gas

Dwayne Johnson

Minor Penalty: Hockey player Derek (Dwayne Johnson) tells his girlfriend's 6-year-old that there's no such thing as molar-collecting fairies — and gets smacked around by Julie Andrews as a result. 20th Century Fox hide caption

itoggle caption 20th Century Fox

Tooth Fairy

  • Director: Michael Lembeck
  • Genre: Family Comedy
  • Running Time: 102 minutes

Rated PG: sports and bullies

With: Dwayne Johnson, Ashley Judd, Stephen Merchant, Ryan Sheckler, Seth MacFarlane

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Dozens of movies have been devoted to the Santa Claus mythos, but until now, the Tooth Fairy has appeared predominantly in horror films like Darkness Falls or Manhunter and Red Dragon, two adaptations of the same Thomas Harris book.

There are a couple of possible reasons for that: One, there simply isn't much to the Tooth Fairy, who offers kids little more than a dab of monetary Orajel for their troubles. Two, it doesn't hold up to scrutiny. How much thought does anyone want to devote to a spectral being who sneaks into people's rooms and collects their teeth? That's serial-killer behavior, not the stuff of magic.

The abysmal new family comedy Tooth Fairy tries to square that circle by grafting the Santa Claus universe — or, more specifically, the Santa Clause universe — onto an icon in desperate need of a back story. Aside from location, there's little difference between the hectic goings-on at the traditional North Pole and those at the celestial Fairyland in this movie; both territories seem ruled by equal parts bureaucracy and enchantment.

In fact, the only apparent reason Tooth Fairy exists at all is to squeeze tough-guy ex-wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson into tights and a tutu. As comic ideas go, that doesn't stretch much further than the poster.

Based on an 18-year-old script by the once-popular writing team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, Tooth Fairy volleys between light comedy and heavy sentimentality, an on/off switch they toggled relentlessly in hits like Parenthood, A League of Their Own and the City Slickers movies.

Dwayne Johnson, Stephen Merchant i i

Tracy the caseworker (Stephen Merchant, better known for his collaborations with Ricky Gervais) gets pressed into duty as Derek's minder and unwilling sidekick. 20th Century Fox hide caption

itoggle caption 20th Century Fox
Dwayne Johnson, Stephen Merchant

Tracy the caseworker (Stephen Merchant, better known for his collaborations with Ricky Gervais) gets pressed into duty as Derek's minder and unwilling sidekick.

20th Century Fox

The ever-game Johnson hits the requisite marks as Derek, a minor-league hockey enforcer whose thuggery on the ice is matched by his dream-dashing bitterness off of it. When he tells his girlfriend's 6-year-old daughter that the Tooth Fairy isn't real, Derek runs afoul of Fairyland and its matriarch (Julie Andrews), who sentences him to two weeks of fairy duty.

Perhaps realizing that having Johnson flail around in wings and dainty garments isn't enough to sustain a Saturday Night Live sketch, let along a feature-length comedy, the filmmakers have loaded Tooth Fairy up with gimmicks galore — amnesia dust, invisibility spray, a shrinkage paste, dog-bark mints, a magic wand, and a lanky caseworker (Stephen Merchant, best known as Ricky Gervais' writing partner and co-performer) to serve as reluctant sidekick.

There's barely a chuckle in the entire film, but the relentless mugging and pratfalls are far easier to stomach than Johnson going twinkly-eyed and soft in the end, or Andrews giving a flowery speech about the Tooth Fairy as if it were the last, crumbling beachhead of childhood innocence and imagination. As the fairy goes, Andrews suggests, so goes our sense of wonder. If you can swallow that hokum, there's a quarter waiting under your pillow.

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