Sometimes, superstardom is the worst possible hit that an actor's creative life can take. Struggling thespians can afford to follow their youthful muse down quirky, uncommercial paths. But once eight-figure salaries and blockbuster budgets enter the picture, so do personal trainers, assistants, publicists, lawyers, agents, entourages, and countless other hangers-on, none of whom are liable to accept payment in anything as subjective and non-transferable as the sense of satisfaction derived from consistently choosing daring, arty projects. Perhaps more than anyone since Kevin Spacey, Vin Diesel illustrates this phenomenon perfectly.
Before ascending too quickly to rarified heights, Diesel distinguished himself as an intense character actor in worthy fare such as Boiler Room, Saving Private Ryan, The Iron Giant, Pitch Black, and The Fast And The Furious. Since becoming Vin Diesel, Inc., he's veered from one clunker to another: XXX, Knockaround Guys, A Man Apart, The Chronicles Of Riddick, and now The Pacifier, a DOA retread of Kindergarten Cop directed by former choreographer Adam Shankman with the same leaden touch he brought to Bringing Down The House. Revealing hitherto unseen depths of stiffness, Diesel stumbles badly in the role of an authoritarian, gung-ho military man assigned to baby-sit/protect the family of a slain technological genius, ostensibly as part of some strange exchange program that dispatches experienced au pairs to invade oil-rich Middle Eastern countries. At first, the genius' brats bitterly resent Diesel's brusque manner and draconian rules, but with an epidemic of vicious bullies just waiting to receive vengeance, Diesel becomes invaluable. Lauren Graham gives an uncharacteristically robotic performance as Diesel's painfully arbitrary love interest, in a role that seems slapped together at the last minute to undermine the rampant, unnerving homoeroticism and S&M undertones of Diesel's scenes with wrestling-crazed nemesis Brad Garrett.
Diesel and Graham both seem to use their characters' military backgrounds as excuses to devolve into emotionless automatons. Reduced to playing straight man to a hideous gaggle of pint-sized terrors and their uncontrollable bodily functions, Diesel suffers through all the excrement, flatulence, puke, and diaper jokes a PG rating will allow. At one point, Diesel literally wades into a rancid sewer and emerges covered in feces, an image that sadly doubles as a metaphor for his career.