Watching modern kiddie comedies, it’s generally better for the soul to look for ways in which the glass is half-full rather than half-empty. Case in point: The new Dwayne Johnson vehicle, The Tooth Fairy, doesn’t feature a lot of crotch-slamming, farting, singing CGI rodents, or shrieking children. It does feature Julie Andrews in a welcome return to her usual role as a sweetly benevolent patrician figure. Frequent Ricky Gervais partner Stephen Merchant is pretty funny in his role as a put-upon functionary. Johnson remains a reliably charming presence, and one of the kid stars isn’t too glutinously precious. For a bad, broad comedy, Tooth Fairy boasts a surprising number of positives. Which isn’t to say that it’s good, but it could be much, much worse.
Johnson stars as a popular minor-league hockey player nicknamed “The Tooth Fairy” because his signature move is knocking out opposing players’ teeth; as his coach points out, he’s a show pony, not a player, but he’s reconciled himself to his thoroughly compromised dreams of glory, which he actively preaches to everyone around him. Then he heartlessly tells the daughter of his girlfriend Ashley Judd that the actual magical Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist. Suddenly, he sprouts wings and is whisked off to Fairyland (no, really), where caseworker Merchant and head fairy Andrews sentence him to atone by working as a Tooth Fairy, largely by engaging in manic slapstick involving a bunch of clumsy CGI.
If nothing else, The Tooth Fairy keeps the story moving along, largely by packing it with a staggering number of plotlines. By the film’s end, Johnson has to patch things up with Judd, save his faltering hockey career, teach a lesson to an obnoxious young-turk player, convince Merchant to believe in himself and become a full-fledged Tooth Fairy, and bond with Judd's dour prepubescent son, boosting his self-esteem enough to get him into the school talent show. And then there’s dealing with wackadoodle Tooth Fairy trainer Billy Crystal, learning to use fairy magic, and collecting all those kids’ teeth, for reasons never explained. Some of these plotlines prove dire in execution, especially given that Johnson can pull off “charming,” “sincere,” and “bad-ass” pretty well, but doesn’t seem to have settings for “surprised,” “scared,” or “filled with complicated, layered angst.” But director Michael Lembeck (The Santa Clause 2 and 3) keeps things brisk, and it’s all over pretty quickly, so audiences are rarely given time to reflect on how utterly ridiculous and pointless all this is. That leaves the glass at least a quarter full.