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?”