The Pacifier

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The first baby puke in “The Pacifier” occurs within 10 minutes. Poop and pee follow shortly — this film wallows in poop and pee — and it is not long before we have run the gamut of juvenile things normally associated with PG-rated “family” comedies.

All except for one. Somehow, the film overlooks the essential “guy getting hit in the groin” moment for more than 80 minutes! Everything is winding down, and you’re thinking it will end without any crotch-shots — but then, at the last minute, a bad guy gets nailed right where it counts. And it’s a good thing, too! If the groin injury had been left out altogether, Walt Disney Pictures would have lost its license to practice crappy film producing!

“The Pacifier” marks Vin Diesel’s official descent into oblivion. It is his “Kindergarten Cop,” his “Mr. Nanny” — except that those films were made by muscular stars (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hulk Hogan, of course) who had enjoyed action-hero status for many years prior. Diesel’s only been on the scene for four years. Already he’s resorting to this?

He plays Shane Wolfe, a Navy S.E.A.L. who considers himself responsible for the death of a government scientist. (He is right to consider himself responsible, by the way, because it was his fault. I’m just sayin’.) The scientist had been working on some kind of weapon or project or device or something, and the government thinks he has left it in a safety deposit box in Switzerland. So they escort his wife (Faith Ford) to Zurich and leave Wolfe behind to protect her five children, who may be at risk of attack by whoever killed their dad.

It sounds hilarious so far, doesn’t it? Murdered scientist, bereaved widow, children in danger — what’s not to love? If only it had Nazis…!

Wolfe treats his governance of the children — teenagers Zoe (Brittany Snow) and Seth (Max Thieriot), younger Lulu (Morgan York), toddler Peter (Keegan and Logan Hoover) and baby Tyler (Bo and Luke Vink — my goodness, someone named their twins after the Duke boys!) — like a military operation, and therein lies the “joke,” for want of a better word. He loads up his tool belt not with grenades or guns but with juice boxes and bottles. He gives the children code names and wakes them up at 6 a.m. It’s all run like a special top-secret mission. Get it?

I just saw a movie like this a week ago, “Man of the House,” starring Tommy Lee Jones as a Texas Ranger who moves into a house belonging to five college cheerleaders so he can protect them from assassins. The reason that movie worked even as minimally as it did is that Tommy Lee Jones is a serious actor. He knew that playing the role as straight as possible would make it the most effective, as it would provide contrast to the silliness of the situation. Juxtaposition is, after all, very often at the root of comedy.

Diesel should have done the same thing for “The Pacifier.” He ought to have been as tough and serious as he is in his action films. But instead, though he does tough and serious things, he does them winkingly, with the apparent attitude that since the movie is a comedy, he ought to be silly about it. This is wrong, and if the director were someone who knew how to direct comedy, he would have corrected him. But instead, the director is Adam Shankman, giver of such mediocrity as “The Wedding Planner,” “A Walk to Remember” and “Bringing Down the House.”

As expected, Wolfe slowly bonds with the children. He teaches Lulu and her Girl Scout troop (only they’re not called “Girl Scouts”) self-defense for when the Boy Scout troop (only they’re not called “Boy Scouts”) harasses them. He sings little Peter his special bedtime song every night. He even steps in to direct Seth’s community theater play when the director drops out, figuring his experience with commanding intricate search-and-rescue missions is the same thing as choreographing dance routines. (What’s amazing is that he turns out to be right.) In fact, the play is “The Sound of Music,” which means there ARE Nazis in this movie.

But you’re wondering why he has so much time to live with the children when their mother only had to go to Zurich long enough to retrieve the safety deposit box. Well, it turns out she doesn’t know the password, so she must sit there and guess it. She does this for two weeks, apparently going to the bank every morning at 8 and guessing passwords until 5. Whether she breaks for lunch or not, the movie does not say.

The movie gets dumber as it goes, becoming both preposterous and predictable, with every box checked on the list of clichés. Does the hero have a catchphrase? Check. (“We do it my way — there is no highway option.”) Does he have an obligatory romance with a tertiary character? Check. Does he put his hand in a dirty diaper? Check. (What a dirty diaper is doing lying open on the kitchen counter is anyone’s guess.)

In the end, he tells young Lulu, who has sort of a crush on him, “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.” This is both creepy and sad.

The real tragedy here is that Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant, who are brilliant on Comedy Central’s semi-improvised “Reno 911,” wrote this useless screenplay. They wrote “Taxi,” too, that miserable Jimmy Fallon/Queen Latifah comedy from last year. The subject of how two men can be so funny as improvisational actors yet so lousy as screenwriters is worthy of an essay. Maybe another time. Right now I need to lie down.

D- (1 hr., 31 min.; PG, some strong action violence, crude humor, some mild profanity -- should probably be PG-13.)

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