Why do so many family comedies have the quality and consistency of something recently rinsed and spat down an ortho-sink? “Lower your expectations,” says the minor-league hockey player to the suddenly disillusioned preteen fan in “Tooth Fairy.” “That’s the only way you’re gonna be happy.” Well, I tried that. But this PG-rated fantasy, conceived as a vehicle for the amiable Dwayne Johnson, is more or less talking to itself with that line.
The poster’s the funniest thing about the project: Johnson, sporting a pair of fairy wings larger than his forearms, glaring at the camera. Known as “The Tooth Fairy” for his ability to knock his opponents’ teeth all over the rink, Johnson’s character, minor-league hockey player Derek Thompson, hasn’t taken an actual shot at the net for nearly a decade, owing to minimal ambition and maximal self-loathing.
The real tooth fairies in Molar Sprite Valley or wherever do not like this hockey player who dashes the dreams of young ones so cavalierly. So, whoosh, he’s lifted off to Fairyland, where Julie Andrews and a weirdly overscaled Stephen Merchant oversee Derek’s stint as a “real” tooth fairy. His wings sprout at inconvenient times, in the locker room, or canoodling, chastely, with his girlfriend, played by Ashley Judd. Destiny Grace Whitlock plays her daughter; in an unusually good performance, Chase Ellison offers some real, unforced feeling as the lonely son whose music is his passion.
Directed by the numbers by Michael Lembeck (“Santa Clause 2,” “Santa Clause 3″), the film relies on gimmicks such as Derek learning to use anti-cat blasters or shrinking paste to execute his tooth fairy duties. The shrinking paste leads to a newly small Derek being pursued by a dino-size kitten, a segment that may as well carry the subtitle “Honey, I Shrunk the Artist Formerly Known as the Rock.”
Johnson’s a game and antic presence, but saddled with this material — he comes perilously close to tiring out the audience with all the nervous activity and the mugging. Working in a lower key, Billy Crystal is good for a chuckle or two as an elder fairy statesman. Your kids may like some of it, or all of it. I’d say the results land square on the action-star-goes-cuddly bubble alongside “The Spy Next Door” and “The Pacifier” and, eons ago, “Kindergarten Cop.”