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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Tooth Fairy (review)

Insufficiently Advanced Magic

Any sufficiently advanced magic, as you may have heard suggested, is bound to be indistinguishable from science. But little has been hypothesized about insufficiently advanced magic: What might it be indistinguishable from?

One might speculate that insufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from, say, the molded-plastic-and-soggy-diaper reek of a playground attached to a fast-food chain outlet, designed to keep children diverted at a bare subsistence level of entertainment, with accompanying “nourishment” of actually negative nutritional value. Insufficiently advanced magic may well be indistinguishable from, perhaps, a department-store Santa who breathes alcoholic fumes on toddlers and gets way too much of a kick out of having kiddies perched on the thigh of his unwashed polyester-velvet pants. Or how about this: Insufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from the ruthlessly forced faux charm of a witless, sloppily assembled, lazily crafted movie that believes it can get away with such shoddiness because it’s “for kids.”
There are many levels of insufficiently advanced magic at work in Tooth Fairy. First is the one that utterly fails, apparently, to understand what fantasy is in the first place, despite the not unreasonable expectation that at least one half-wit among the half-dozen credited writers might appreciate the concept. (The writers? Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who as a team created Fever Pitch and Robots, the latter of which is as misbegotten as this; Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia, the team behind Surviving Christmas, a nightmare; Randi Mayem Singer; and Jim Piddock, who wrote The Man, a horror.) If “tooth fairies” are real, as this atrocity would posit, and constitute an army of magical beings who flitter around the world at night collecting preadolescent dental residue and leaving token payment in its place, then why would parents have to put money under kids’ pillows at night, as this atrocity also posits is the case? (It’s the same issue that plagues all those “Santa is real, but Mom and Dad still do put all those prezzies under the tree” fantasies: well, which is it?) If tooth fairies are real, and ordinary nonmagical schmoes like idiot pro hockey player Derek (Dwayne Johnson: Planet 51, Race to Witch Mountain) can get drafted into the tooth-fairy army, where they must be educated in all the ways in which they must avoid being seen or otherwise detected by the muggles — ways in which they constantly fail — they why don’t the muggles just see or otherwise detect the fairies? The only halfway reasonable conclusion one can draw from the scenario we are presented with here is… well… there is no halfway reasonable way to make this work.

Even fantasy has rules. “Fantasy” does not mean you can just pull shit out of thin air, wave some fairy dust over it, and call it a story.

Oh, there are some slapdash magical fixes for the shanghaied tooth fairy who is accidentally spotted — most of which are introduced by Billy Crystal (Cars, Analyze That), phoning in a Miracle Max impersonation. But these represent an appalling magic of convenience, which either works or doesn’t depending upon whether it’s “funny” or not. (Roger Rabbit might understand this logic. No one else will.) Except none of it is, in fact, funny. Ever. Or magical.

Real movie fantasy magic might have begun with this given: Tooth fairies are real, and everyone knows it. Idiot hockey player Derek could still get summonsed to fairyland for the sole crime of taking the name “Tooth Fairy” in vain — he’s got an on-ice rep for bodychecking opposing players so hard their teeth get knocked out — instead of also for the additional crime of being such a miserable bastard that he crushes the hopes and dreams of little kids (even his little-kid fans!). But perhaps because this might have been a fictional world in which tooth fairies are honored and respected — even feared! that could have been genuinely unexpected and hence therefore, you know, funny — we could have dispensed with the stupidity of humor taking the form of the humiliation of Derek by having him accidentally magicked into a pink tutu. Or magically flushed down a toilet.

Seriously: magically flushed down a toilet is about the best you can expect from Tooth Fairy. Ooo, did the Rock get poop on him? Eww, gross!

We could have also dispensed with another form of insufficiently advanced magic: the one in which the tooth fairy godmother, Lily (Julie Andrews: Enchanted, Shrek the Third), gets to admonish Derek as a “Dream Killer.” Because kids need fantasy, she explains; fantasy is important, and so it’s mean and wrong to tell kids there’s no Santa Claus. Which is true. Except Lily is referring to kids’ belief in The Tooth Fairy… except that isn’t fantasy, because tooth fairies are real. The power of imagination, which Tooth Fairy appears to believe it is advocating, isn’t necessary when reality is staring you in the face.

About three seconds into the film, you realize that, dear god, this is gonna be a story about a guy who learns how to be a better man by being a tooth fairy: that’s an insufficiently advanced magic we could do without. And this one: the notion that, apparently, it takes Hollywood magic, if not actual magical impetus within the story, to get a man to look after children, as Derek must do with the offspring of his girlfriend, Carly (Ashley Judd: Bug, De-Lovely) — is this really such an extreme fantasy? (Hint: No. Could Hollywood please stop treating men like they’re children themselves?)

There’s so little sufficiently advanced magic here that even Johnson’s appeal, which has often seemed almost supernaturally powerful, is completely absent here. Instead, it’s been replaced by such abominations as a pseudo drug-dealer fairy, Ziggy (Seth MacFarlane: Hellboy II: The Golden Army), who gots the stuff Derek needs to get through his forced servitude in the fairy justice system (no lawyer, no trial, just a railroaded sentence). Derek is reluctant, at first, to purchase Ziggy’s wares, but Ziggy sums up Tooth Fairy with one line: “How bad do you want this to end?”

Bad.


MPAA: rated PG for mild language, some rude humor and sports action

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • “Fantasy” does not mean you can just pull shit out of thin air, wave some fairy dust over it, and call it a story.

    Awesome.

  • Neil

    You know what I hate? When wrestlers and rappers decide to try their hand at movies, and still use their wrestling and rapping names.

    He shouldn’t be billed as “The Rock.” He shouldn’t be billed as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He should simply be Dwayne Johnson.

    That gripe, however, is subservient to my main complaint: Guys like this being given roles in movies to begin with.

  • Kenny

    Oh come on Neil… wrestlers ARE actors… they play a character in the ring which bears little relation to their actual personality. If any ‘sporting’ personality can make a comfortable crossover into acting, then it’s a wrestler.

  • misterb

    @Neil – in fairness to the Rock, he is billed as Dwayne Johnson now, and that’s how MaryAnn refers to him. And as a personality, he’s pretty good even if he isn’t really an actor – imagine him as John Wayne with Polynesian tattoos. Then imagine John Wayne in a pink tutu – go ahead I dare you.

  • Victor Plenty

    imagine John Wayne in a pink tutu…

    I never realized John Wayne walked like that.

  • stryker1121

    The thing, Johnson really is above this family fare crap…i’ve watched him since his wwe days and the man oozes charisma…you could build an action franchise around him–he’s definitely pull off a Bruce Willis-type turn in the right hands.

  • CB

    He was billed as “The Rock” for the longest time, which really makes no sense. It’d be like billing the X-Men movie as starring Captain Picard.

    Of course the reason they do it is that while wrestlers are actors, we’re supposed to pretend we don’t know that, so hypothetically when the casting director hires Mr. Johnson, he’s actually getting “The Rock” who will throw The People’s Elbow if he doesn’t get a shrimp cocktail in his trailer right damn now.

    Hey I have an idea: Wrestlers and rappers can be billed by their stage names but they have to list every name they’ve ever used.

    Johnson is decent enough in less awful movies. He was pretty good in that move where he comes back to his home town only to find it in the grips of a slimy (but younger and hip for a change of pace) businessman who owns the cops and deals drugs to kids, so he gets himself elected as the new Sheriff so he can start knocking heads in a semi-legal way. I liked it for its pro-democracy message, even if he never did say the line “I’ve been given a mandate… to kick ass!”

  • He was billed as “The Rock” for the longest time, which really makes no sense. It’d be like billing the X-Men movie as starring Captain Picard.

    I LOLed.

    Confession: I really like Dwayne Johnson. He’s got a knack for comedy.

    But I hate this kind of comedy. Lazy “wackiness” and gross-out humor. And how many “laughs” are derived from Dwayne Johnson in a *gasp* pink frilly getup?? What a humiliation, to be feminized.

    Though I’m assuming, MAJ, since tooth fairies are everywhere, that they aren’t only just women (or men)? So why would a man as a tooth fairy even be worth batting an eyelash over in this world?

  • luddite

    At least you no longer have to dread seeing this film…

  • Hal Emmerich

    Everyone: Please see ‘Southland Tales’ before knocking Mr. Johnson. He is a terrible actor, but he and his lack of talent can be used to great effect in the right hands. This goes for you too, Ms. Johanson, as I was incredibly disappointed to see that you didn’t review ‘Tales’,I figured you would be one of the only critics that ‘got’ it, as you usually are with critically maligned classics.

  • MaryAnn

    I did see *Southland Tales.* It’s one of my worst movies of 2007.

    He shouldn’t be billed as “The Rock.” He shouldn’t be billed as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He should simply be Dwayne Johnson.

    He is, now. He had to do a John Cougar Mellancamp transition, because I’m sure most of his wrestling fans had no idea what his real name is.

    Though I’m assuming, MAJ, since tooth fairies are everywhere, that they aren’t only just women (or men)? So why would a man as a tooth fairy even be worth batting an eyelash over in this world?

    Yes, in this movie, tooth fairies are both male and female. But it’s “funny” because Derek is a big tough asshole, and so of course he finds it demeaning to have to deal with magic dust and wings and all that fairy shit. You might has well say that because homosexuals are everywhere, what’s worth batting an eyelash over if a character in a movie is gay? Idiotic movies like this one think it’s worth it because some juvenile adults cannot cope with reality, and the filmmakers think it’s worth indulging their childishness.

  • You might has well say that because homosexuals are everywhere, what’s worth batting an eyelash over if a character in a movie is gay? Idiotic movies like this one think it’s worth it because some juvenile adults cannot cope with reality, and the filmmakers think it’s worth indulging their childishness.

    I agree, MAJ. But it just adds an extra layer of stupidity because deriding him for wearing tooth fairy drag in the story itself makes no sense. Then, it just becomes pure fear of feminization. Using your gay example: if the movie was set in a mirror of the real world, it might not come across as weird that in-movie characters deride a gay character. It may still be offensive, depending on how it was portrayed, but because discrimination still exists, there’s no dissonance. But, if the movie were set in a world where there were a lot of, say, out gays and lesbians that no one seemed to bat an eyelash at, but the movie relentlessly harshed on the main gay male for being gay, the movie would definitely read as far more offensive and sinister (not to mention idiotic) if played without irony.

    So, yeah, I think we agree. The movie can’t even be bothered to be true to its own rules.

  • Neil

    He is, now. He had to do a John Cougar Mellancamp transition, because I’m sure most of his wrestling fans had no idea what his real name is.

    I see. That’s a step in the right direction.

    I have nothing against Dwayne Johnson, and actually, I even agree with a poster above who suggested that an action franchise could probably built be built around the guy. And sure, being a pro wrestler, he has some amount of acting credentials, but let’s be honest: there’s a reason why he’s getting the roles he’s getting. He’s not exactly the second coming of Robert De Niro.

  • Xianghong

    Shouldn’t it be the other way around: any sufficiently advanced science (technology) is indistinguishable from magic? Otherwise it doesn’t seem to make sense.

  • CB

    The original Arthur C Clark quote is the other way around — “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Sometimes given with the addendum “if you don’t know how it works“, which is kinda implicit in Clark’s quote, and the whole point of it really since it was used to explain “technology” in hard sci-fi that the author obviously couldn’t explain how you would actually make work.

    Larry Niven reversed it, and it makes sense in the context of authoring fantasy novels. Or making movies where magic is real.

    Also, it works when lambasting a movie, especially one with a fantasy pretense, because of what we often refer to as “movie magic”. And in this movie, it’s insufficiently advanced. :)

  • Maura

    I like Dwayne Johnson. He’s attractive, charismatic, and he always seemed to me to be a pretty bright guy with a good sense of perspective. I think if he were allowed, he’d be a very decent comic actor; his wrestling years have given him good timing and great personality (I know, I know). “Get Smart” was a leaden bore of a movie, but it came to life when he was onscreen.

    So my only question is how does he end up getting sucked into a subpar mess like this? If he and his agent aren’t real careful, they’re going to get stuck in the sub-basement with Eddie Murphy (whose transformation from a sharp, edgy comic into a Disney standby still astounds me), and I don’t think there’s any getting out once you’re down there.

  • MaryAnn

    Shouldn’t it be the other way around: any sufficiently advanced science (technology) is indistinguishable from magic? Otherwise it doesn’t seem to make sense.

    What CB said, but also: It makes *perfect* sense, and it’s very true. Look at, for example, the magic newspapers with their moving pictures in Harry Potter’s world and the flatscreen-paper newspapers with their moving pictures in *Minority Report.* The magic looks like science. The science looks like magic. Floo powder looks like a transporter. A transporter looks like floo powder. Wouldn’t Harry’s Marauder’s Map be exactly the same if everyone at Hogwarts was tagged with a GPS device and the map showed their location and movements?

    Hence, any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from science.

    Also, it works when lambasting a movie, especially one with a fantasy pretense, because of what we often refer to as “movie magic”. And in this movie, it’s insufficiently advanced. :)

    It’s not *just* the movie magic that’s insufficiently advanced in this movie, though: the fantasy magic doesn’t work, either.

  • Bluejay

    I think scientists should get to work and make those “paper e-mails” in Caprica a reality.

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