Didn't Hollywood learn anything from "Mr. Nanny"? Cuddly, mischievous kids and over-muscled tough guys from the Sylvester Stallone Method School don't mix.
Vin Diesel is not funny in so many ways in the family action comedy "The Pacifier," a vain attempt to broaden his prospects beyond the bust-'em-up thriller, a genre in which he's already grown stale.
The formula is as unsuccessful as it was in 1993's "Mr. Nanny," which starred Hulk Hogan as a wrestler who hires on as nursemaid to a gang of spoiled brats.
Here, Diesel is a Navy SEAL assigned to watch over the children of a slain security expert, a family ranging from a puke-prone baby and a destructive toddler to a couple of rebellious teens.
Diesel's the "Pacifier," get it? The wit dries up from there in this brainless concoction from director Adam Shankman ("Bringing Down the House") and screenwriters Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant ("Taxi").
As crackerjack rescue-ops leader Shane Wolfe, Diesel tries to apply his "my-way-or-the-highway" approach to baby-sitting the five Plummer kids and protecting them from nebulous villains trying to find a wayward satellite-defense program developed by the kids' late father.
The children - led by Brittany Snow and Max Thieriot as the surly elders and Morgan York as the adorable middle kid who becomes Shane's protege - battle back, putting Diesel through a succession of stilted pratfalls.
His monotonous baritone rumblings worked well in small doses for "Saving Private Ryan," his first major film, for the voice of an alien robot in the animated tale "The Iron Giant" and for the small horror hit "Pitch Black," which took an ensemble approach that did not put the entire movie on Diesel's back.
Since then, Diesel's string of dark anti-hero roles has pretty much exhausted his acting range, culminating in last year's atrocious "Pitch Black" follow-up "The Chronicles of Riddick."
In "The Pacifier," Diesel tries to play his action persona for laughs, but he simply cannot curl his mouth around lines meant to be funny. His stiffness is exacerbated by lackluster action sequences, sapping the movie of Diesel's one strong suit, breaking heads credibly.
The filmmakers toss their talented supporting cast to the wolves, particularly Lauren Graham of "The Gilmore Girls," who's forced to amble awkwardly through a vacuous part as a school principal with a romantic interest in Diesel's Shane (as good an actress as she is, Graham's not good enough to make that last part believable).
Faith Ford has barely more than a few walk-ons as the Plummer children's perky mom, and Brad Garrett is terribly annoying as an autocratic vice principal.
Carol Kane is just a woebegone presence, screeching in one of her accents of uncertain origin as nanny to the youngest Plummer children, a role that's a step down even from her shrill bit part in last year's "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen."
Here's a helpful hint to pass the time should you be the unfortunate parent assigned to escort the kids to this comatose comedy:
Every time Vin Diesel starts to speak, imagine shoving an adult-sized pacifier in his mouth. It doesn't make the movie go any faster, but it gives you something to do while you're busy not laughing.
"The Pacifier," a Disney release, is rated PG for action violence, language and rude humor. Running time: 95 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
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