Dwayne Johnson used to be "the Rock" but now he's a softie, playing muscular plush toys for children in The Game Plan, Race to Witch Mountain and now Tooth Fairy.
The former pro wrestler is game for childish silliness, and that's his most endearing attribute as an actor. Any hulk can shadow-punch stunt men and dodge fake fireballs. Only a real man dons feathery wings and a pink tutu to play a tooth fairy, and comes out looking smart by doing it.
It's a contrast as old as Frankenstein's monster and the little girl giving him flowers; kids are fascinated by giants, especially if they act goofy. Arnold Schwarzenegger set the modern standard for human jungle gyms with Kindergarten Cop. Now Johnson has the playground all to himself, and his willingness to look foolish makes Tooth Fairy a genial treat.
Johnson plays Derek "Tooth Fairy" Thompson, an enforcer for a minor league hockey team with a knack for separating teeth from their owners. Derek can also be a jerk, telling a young hockey hopeful to lower his expectations so he'll wind up happy. That cynical attitude spreads to the home of his girlfriend Carly (Ashley Judd) and her daughter Tess (Destiny Grace Whitlock).
Tess has a Lincoln Logs notch where her front teeth should be, and expects payment for the missing pieces. Derek tells her there's no such thing as a tooth fairy. The next day, Derek awakes with a summons under his pillow from the Department of Dissemination of Disbelief, led by fairy-in-chief Lily (Julie Andrews, classy as always).
Lily sentences Derek to two weeks duty as a tooth fairy, with nerdy case worker Tracy (Stephen Merchant) monitoring his mistakes and a funny, unbilled Billy Crystal handing out gadgets for fairies to evade detection, including shrinking paste, amnesia dust and invisibility spray. Each gimmick comes into play with earnest, low-budget special effects.
The script is erratic, as can be expected with three sets of screenwriters creating a parade of puns and sight gags (a solicitous band of "Fairy Krishnas" is as clever as they get). A few snappy lines emerge, like Lily's admonishment to squabbling fairies: "Stop it. You're behaving like leprechauns." This movie isn't another Elf but it's no trip to the dentist, either.
Tooth Fairy delivers exactly what it intends: family-friendly amusement with a nice message for kids about raising their expectations, and Johnson utilizing his impressive physique and mugging cribbed from Rob Schneider to full infantile effect. Not exactly a performance-enhancing quality, but it works.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.