Tooth Fairy

“Tooth Fairy” stars Dwayne Johnson as an arrogant minor-league hockey player who is forced to serve a stint as the title character as penance for his disbelief in magic, or dreams, or something. The motivation for this scenario, obviously, is that someone thought it would be hilarious to see The Rock wearing wings and a tutu. Not that I dispute this, necessarily, but it’s hardly enough to hang a movie on.

The best that can be said for the film is that, despite its description, it is not unbearable. It can be borne. Indeed, there are actually some laughs in the early scenes, thanks to a supporting cast whose comedic skills are more finely tuned than those of the broad, hammy Dwayne Johnson. We will get to them in a moment, once I have filled you in on the stupid premise of the stupid plot.

It is as follows. Derek Thompson, whose name was probably chosen because it sounds a lot like Dwayne Johnson, is a smug, preening hockey player nicknamed the Tooth Fairy because of his penchant for knocking out opposing players’ teeth. He’s a big star, the Tooth Fairy; the crowds love him. Yet the film tries to tell us that, in addition to being a fan favorite, he is also a washed-up has-been who everyone thinks is too old to play. Why the movie thought it could pass him off as both of these things, I do not know, but here we are.
Derek doesn’t believe in fantasies and ambitions. “Dreams are bad,” he actually says, out loud. “They’re useless.” When a young fan seeks his autograph — and then tells him he’s an old has-been; remember, those two opposing ideas occupy the same space in this movie — Derek tells him that he, the kid, will never be a big hockey star, because there will always be someone better. Derek the Tooth Fairy is a dream killer.

Derek has a girlfriend named Carly (Ashley Judd) who has two children, 13-year-old Randy (Chase Ellison) and 7-year-old Tess (Destiny Grace Whitlock). Tess loses a tooth and puts it under her pillow, then is upset to find no cash there. This is because after putting some cash there, Derek sneaked into her room and stole it back because he needed it for the poker game he was playing with his buddies downstairs. (How much money had he put under her pillow to begin with?!) Derek decides now’s the time to tell Tess there’s no such thing as the Tooth Fairy, but Carly stops him and berates him and says that Tess is HER daughter,and she will continue to tell her lies about mythological dental figures as long as she pleases, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

That’s when Derek gets a summons from the Department of Dissemination of Disbelief. Since he doesn’t believe in dreams, or magic, or imagination, or something — I was never really clear on what Derek’s deficiency was — he has to BE a tooth fairy for two weeks. He’s whisked away to Tooth Fairy Land and fitted with wings and tights. I doubt any of this is legal, but stay with me here. His case worker is a skinny, nerdy bureaucrat named Tracy (Stephen Merchant), and the whole operation is overseen by a fairy godmother named Lily, played by Julie Andrews. It is sad to see Julie Andrews reduced to this sort of thing, but there’s no denying she’s perfectly cast as a stern but loving authority figure.

She’s also funny. She is appalled that Derek would dare to interrupt her. You wouldn’t interrupt a police officer, she says, but put wings on someone and suddenly it’s OK to be rude to them. If anything, you should be MORE afraid of someone who has wings. She makes a good point.

Also funny is Stephen Merchant, the British actor and writer best known for co-writing “The Office” with Ricky Gervais. So is Billy Crystal, who turns up as a crusty old fairy who teaches Derek how to use the magical things tooth fairies need (invisibility spray, cat repellant, etc.). I wouldn’t be surprised if these old pros’ dialogue — Crystal’s vaudevillian patter, Merchant’s officious bluster — came from the actors themselves rather than any of the film’s five credited screenwriters. Goodness knows they didn’t write much for anyone else that was very funny.

The film’s only real laughs are there at Tooth Fairy headquarters. Back on Earth, it’s the sort of eye-rolling drudgery you’d expect. Derek can’t control when he’s about to sprout wings and turn into a fairy — it happens whenever he has an assignment — and so he must hide from Carly and the kids, make up dumb excuses, and so forth. He also has a young rival on his hockey team (Ryan Sheckler), although now that I think about it I have no idea what purpose that subplot serves, so I’m not going to mention it. And there’s some business with Derek trying to bond with Randy, who never likes his mom’s boyfriends, yada yada. You know, the typical heartwarming Disney crap.

(It’s actually not a Disney film, but it sure seems like one. Specifically, it seems like the 1997 “Wonderful World of Disney” TV production “Toothless,” starring Kirstie Alley as a dentist who must do time as the Tooth Fairy. It also seems a lot like the “Santa Clause” franchise. It is probably no coincidence that Michael Lembeck, who directed “Tooth Fairy,” also made the second and third movies in that series. I expect his next effort will be about a curmudgeonly man who is forced to fill in for the Easter bunny because he hates eggs.)

Late in the film, Tess loses another tooth and Derek is the fairy assigned to her case. She is sound asleep. Then Randy, who dropped out of the school talent show because of Derek, decides he wants to perform after all, so they all rush to the theater and get there just in time for him to go on. What time do school talent shows start? Midnight? Or did Tess go to bed at like 6:30? How’s this: Don’t put the tooth incident and the talent show on the same night, movie. This is a case of too many screenwriters trying to squeeze too many plot points into too few scenes, and of too many producers being too apathetic to say anything.

The premise is pretty thin, even for a throwaway family comedy. What is Derek supposed to be learning from all this? To be more … believing … in … things? I guess? Johnson has a lot of screen presence, and he can be silly, but a skilled comic actor he is not. He generally just bumbles around like a doofus, evidently confident that this will make small children laugh. Me, I kept wishing he’d get back to Tooth Fairy HQ, where the snark is.

C- (1 hr., 41 min.; PG, very mild crude humor, hockey violence.)