Passing over, for now, the age-inappropriate disregard for gunplay and death without consequence, this children’s film quickly degenerates into the kind of migraine-inducing knockabout farce that has a bad pun for a title and nothing else. Somewhere in the back of your mind you know the throaty growl is all an act and Lt. Wolfe will eventually reveal his true self, a pyjama-clad softie who would rather braid hair than wire dynamite. In ninety minutes he’ll have fixed the dysfunctional family, solved all their photo-story problems (which don’t include mourning their dead father, strangely) and returned to duty with a rainbow-firing rifle of family love added to his bulging arsenal.
If you don’t mind exposing your children to the transparently fetishistic treatments of weaponry and soldiery on display here, perhaps the sequence where Diesel teaches the children deadly ninja moves or kicks in their bedroom door in a demonstration of “shock and awe” will provide a valuable future training aide. Later, Diesel provides a detailed demonstration of government sanctioned torture techniques when he hogties a troop of Girl Scouts that had the temerity to offer him a biscuit. Essential viewing for the twitchy-eyed amongst us set on raising a platoon of junior fascists, but a horrifying prospect for anyone out there reluctant to have their children’s entertainments built around the premise of normalizing war, torture and death.
Director Adam Shankman's by-the-numbers approach leads one to the certain conclusion that Mr. Shankman never learned to add up. His meandering film is an unqualified mess; sloppily filmed, shamefully edited and awash with potty-mouthed dialogue so cloth-eared it is an insult to textiles. The unfunniest joke of all is the benighted presence of former bouncer Diesel, a mortal fool called an actor only because you need a descriptive noun for the person jigging about in front of the camera. He is far from alone in his unrelenting loathsomeness. The supporting cast’s collective performances are so wooden I worried about the risk of fire when the script called for them to brush up against one another. Brad Garrett - one of a raft of minor sitcom actors in the cast – is called upon to do a two-minute rant as a hectoring school principal. All Diesel can do in response is stare blankly at his fellow actor, his face a mask of whatever the opposite of humanity and emotion and ‘being in the moment’ is and quietly leave the room.
In presenting his rib-tickling scenario Shankman displays all the comic timing of a drunken butcher, giddily slashing his way through reams of the clumsiest exposition and, strangest of all, deciding to let his camera dwell on something (usually Diesel’s raised eyebrow) at the end of every scene - as if waiting for the laughter to die down and the audience to finish rolling in the aisles. He’d still be waiting. When called upon to take over directorial duties on the school’s production of The Sound of Music, there is a long pause as the weight of this new development slowly sinks through Diesel’s gleaming skull. Having twigged the metronomic pattern to events by then, I saw my chance to run and took it.