- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Vin Diesel has come full circle, and in record time. The bulky action star began as a standout in a small sci-fi thriller (2000’s “Pitch Black”), segued into an action hero (2002’s “XXX”) and now finds himself staring down five unruly kids in the family comedy “The Pacifier.”

That’s got to be some kind of land speed record for the creation, elaboration and subversion of a star persona.

Kiddie comedies can be cash cows for Eddie Murphy, but usually it means last stop before straight-to-videoville or infomercial-land.

Just ask Chevy Chase.

“The Pacifier” isn’t nearly as painful as its trailer portends, in part for the same reason Mr. Diesel emerged in the first place. We like the big lug.

Here, he plays a Navy Seal assigned to watch over a widow’s brood who may be the target of assassins.

Never mind the espionage angle. The muscular brute’s mission here is to change diapers, read bedtime stories and assuage a teen girl’s fragile heart.

First, the obligatory setup. Single mom Julie (Faith Ford) enlists a military nanny after her scientist husband is murdered by Serbs seeking his weapons technology.

Enter Lt. Shane Wolfe (Mr. Diesel), a beefy Seal who never shrinks from an assignment.

That changes when he takes a whiff of Julie’s youngest, a diaper-clad infant straight out of central casting. The rest of Julie’s children aren’t much more appealing. The teen daughter (“American Dream’s” Brittany Snow) is a snot, and brooding Seth (Max Thieriot) — well, we don’t know what to make of him.

Establishing the conflict between Wolfe and his young charges fills the movie’s dreary first half.

By dreary, we mean the perfunctory vomit gag followed by an embarrassing turn by an old pro — here it’s Carol Kane doing her foreign shtick.

When Wolfe finally embraces his duties, the film opens in ways we wouldn’t expect.

He teaches one daughter to defend herself against a surly Boy Scout troop with giddy consequences. And the mere thought of Wolfe directing a stage version of “The Sound of Music” is a comedy payoff that tops anything in that misleading trailer.

Then, “The Pacifier” regresses for a stale action climax and more warm hugs than an audience should be forced to endure.

Mr. Diesel’s acting chops haven’t evolved as quickly as his persona. One of “The Pacifier’s” selling points is watching “Everybody Loves Raymond’s” Brad Garrett as a dense school official act rings around our hero.

Yet Mr. Diesel isn’t here to quote Shakespeare. It’s all about physical presence, and watching him bulge out of one tiny T-shirt after another proves sometimes a gym rat can make an impression without saying a syllable.

**

WHAT: “The Pacifier”

RATING: PG (Slapstick violence, some mildly harsh language and excretory humor)

CREDITS: Directed by Adam Shankman. Written by Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant.

RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes

WEB SITE: www.thepacifier.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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