Mary Pols, Special to MSN Movies
A crisis presents itself: Children aren't believing the way they used to. That's what Julie Andrews tells us in the off-key, gooey family movie "Tooth Fairy." And when Andrews uses that splendid voice to tell us something, we tend to buy it; she's the Walter Cronkite of family movies. As the head Tooth Fairy and the boss of a very reluctant novice Tooth Fairy played by Dwayne Johnson, Andrews sports pretty wings the color of a perfectly cooked pancake and dwells in a dreamy white world accessorized with hues of baby blue and pink, as if heaven had been furnished by Pottery Barn Kids.
The movie's premise is that we all need to believe a little more, particularly Johnson's Derek, a minor-league hockey player who hasn't dared to take a shot in nine years. In Lansing, Mich., where he plays on a team called the Ice Wolves, he's known as the Tooth Fairy because he's the kind of brutal but effective defenseman who relishes knocking out his opponents' teeth. He's also a total sleazeball, childish, selfish and possessed of a mean streak.
Even his poker buddies don't trust him to make good on a bet; they recommend he raid the piggy bank of his girlfriend's 6-year-old daughter, Tess, if he wants to ante up. Instead he helps himself to Tess' Tooth Fairy cash, and when she wakes up shrieking about it being gone, blithely tells her there is no such thing as the Tooth Fairy while her mother Carly (Ashley Judd) looks on in dismay. For this offense, the Department of Dissemination of Disbelief assigns Derek to Tooth Fairy duty for two weeks. Translation: the actor formerly known as the Rock will don emasculating tights, satiny fabrics and wings and suffer the various indignities of the fairy life, which include catching the interest of a large house cat. We'll get to hear him complain mightily to his fairy-land handler (Stephen Merchant from the U.K.'s "Office," who could have enlivened the movie, had the script been better) until he's finally redeemed through belief in the Tooth Fairy.
In my youth, Santa ruled, with the Easter bunny a close second, but the entirely secular Tooth Fairy was always, obviously, one of my parents. Who else would toss such a random assortment of coins under the pillow or periodically forget to leave anything at all, and then hardly seem apologetic at breakfast time? So a leap of faith was required to get behind the premise of "Tooth Fairy." I tried because Andrews asked me to, and because, for a few minutes there, Billy Crystal, who has a small role as the "Q"-like gadget master of the Tooth Fairy world, fooled me into thinking the movie might be a little funny.
The problem is, Derek is not redeemable. Even after he's been to magic fairy land, he continues to behave like a jerk, because that is the natural state of his being. I have nothing against Johnson, in fact, as muscle-bound former athletes turned comic actors go, he's quite appealing. I could even forgive the vapidity of his smile (no matter the circumstances, it's always the same, yearbook picture perfect, never reflecting irony or surprise or real humor). But the notion that Carly and Derek's relationship could ever have advanced to the stage at which she would leave him alone with her children was harder to swallow than the concept of the Tooth Fairy itself. The single mother is often portrayed on-screen as someone with lower standards, so desperate for companionship that she'll date anyone. But to keep forgiving a shallow human being who is repeatedly thoughtless and even cruel to her children? There's a scene in which Carly gives Derek a piece of her mind after he's deliberately dashed her son's hopes. He'll never see her children again, she tells him. It's over. Thank heavens, I thought, there's the Ashley Judd of "Kiss the Girls," still in there, somewhere, smart and cool under this saccharine, clueless exterior. (Judd doesn't make many movies these days. She is enrolled at Harvard, studying public policy. Her decision to take this job suggests that tuition is unbearably high.) But what does it take to get Carly to change her mind? Tights and a pair of wings. Some fantasies are foul.
Mary Pols is a Bay Area-based journalist. She reviews movies for Time.com and was for many years a film critic for the San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times. She is also the author of a memoir, "Accidentally on Purpose," published in 2008 by Ecco/ Harper Collins. When she's inspired, usually by something weird, she blogs about it at www.maryfpols.com.