Watching Disney's family comedy The Game Plan mostly involves waiting around for the inevitable payoffs to obvious setups. When a self-absorbed football hero emphatically tells a reporter that nothing off the field matters, how long is it really likely to be before something non-football-related takes over his life? When a news report repeatedly underlines that the only thing holding him back from godhood is his lack of a championship ring, how long will it be until the big championship game becomes a plot point? Most importantly, once his adorable daughter starts asking him to name the best thing that ever happened to him—a question he dodges several times—how long will it be before the big "awwwww" moment where he realizes that it's her?
Stuck in the thankless role of the action hero flouting his tough-guy image by playing opposite a gaggle of moppets (see also Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop, Vin Diesel in The Pacifier, etc.) The Rock makes a stiff but surprisingly charming comedy star as Joe Kingman, a quarterback so in love with his "king" reputation/nickname that he packs his home with Elvis posters and memorabilia alongside the gigantic pictures of himself. Then precocious 8-year-old Peyton Kelly arrives on his doorstep, announcing that she's the daughter he didn't know he had, and he's responsible for her for a month while her mom is doing charity work in Africa. At first, he's all, you know, put out and stuff, especially when she dresses his bulldog in a tutu and covers various household objects with plastic gems. And he isn't too happy when sexy ballet teacher Roselyn Sanchez tells him that to be a supportive dad, he has to wear tights and perform in Kelly's big ballet recital. But eventually, as expected, he totally mellows. Cue big "awwwww" moment.
Every inch of The Game Plan is formulaic, and Kelly makes the proceedings even more artificial by performing like a 30-year-old in a kid suit, complete with ridiculously mannered dialogue: Upon meeting one of her pop's stylish fuck-buddies, Kelly announces "To think you walked out on my mom just to hang out with the likes of that!" But in the film's favor, it's nowhere near as excruciating as it could be. It's a squeaky clean pre-John Hughes, pre-Farrelly brothers throwback to an era where the words "Disney film" meant something: a movie free of crotch slams, gross-out gags, and tittery innuendo. Even the inevitable discomfort humor is blessedly mild. That doesn't make the predictability easier to take, but it does mean parents can sit through the whole thing with a minimum of winces and groans. It's solidly average, but also solidly harmless.