In the hierarchy of things that creep into your house, the tooth fairy ranks somewhere beneath Santa Claus and above the Formosan termite. Compared with her counterparts Kris Kringle and the Easter Bunny, the legendary bicuspid collector hasn’t gathered much mythology: She takes the tooth, puts a buck under the pillow, and … that’s pretty much it. The minds behind the kiddie flick Tooth Fairy (20th Century Fox), then, would seem to have plenty of virgin territory to explore. The biggest question, to my mind: What in the hell do they do with all the teeth?
I wish I could report that molars are the go-to currency in ye olde fairy shoppes, that they’re the roughage of the fairy diet, or that they’re projectiles used in a centuries-long war against Bigfoot and the chupacabra. Alas, in a movie that purports to be a paean to the imagination, we never find out what these flying scavengers want with our discarded mouth debris. Instead, Tooth Fairy takes a fantastical premise and makes it a monument to the power of derivative thinking. It’s the second movie in which The Rock has appeared in a tutu, the second time Billy Crystal has played a wizened, potion-wielding guru, and the umpteenth occasion that Julie Andrews has graced the screen as a princess, a queen, a magical flying lady, or some combination therein. All that, plus there’s an end-of-movie talent show and a determined-practice-is-making-me-better-at-sports montage. Spoiler alert: He shoots, he scores.
Of course, some people, young and old, take comfort in the movie-by-checklist approach. (Exhibit A: the grown woman in the row behind me who shrieked I can’t believe it’s Julie Andrews! upon the one-time Maria von Trapp’s appearance.) For those with a taste for warmed-over gruel, think of Tooth Fairy as a witless Elf. The Rock, deeply ensconced in his Santa With Muscles period, plays Derek Thompson, a minor league hockey goon nicknamed “The Tooth Fairy” who shouts, strangely, “I pledge allegiance to the tooth” after his trademark jaw-rattling hits. When he tells the moppetlike 6-year-old daughter of his lady love (Ashley Judd) that hopes and dreams are worthless, he’s summoned to the Grand Hall of Tooth Fairy Land on charges of disseminating disbelief. His sentence: two weeks of tooth retrieval duty.
Tooth Fairy’s yuks rely on the twin pillars of inopportune wing sprouting and home-invasion high jinks. The former, more easily deflected, is recurrently played off as gastrointestinal distress. The latter is more complicated—armed with amnesia dust, shrinking paste, and cat repellant (all courtesy Crystal’s fairy apothecary), our winged hero flits into houses and bumbles around before making off with his quarry. While The Rock certainly has the pearly whites to carry off tooth-based comedy, Tooth Fairy’s minor charms arrive thanks to Stephen Merchant, who plays Derek’s “case manager,” Tracy. The gangly British comedian, co-writer of the original Office and co-host of The Ricky Gervais Show, doesn’t quite inject Gervaisian cleverness into the proceedings, but his crooked grin does a small part to dress up Tooth Fairy’s drab script.
Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, the boomer scripters of Splash, Parenthood, and Fever Pitch, have either passed their prime or simply have no knack for fantasy. Tooth Fairy Land, we’re told, is running low on funding because children have lost faith in the powers of imagination. We never learn, for example, the source of the fairies’ paper currency: Are they counterfeiters? Do they slice and dice their teeth into CDOs? Perhaps they’re stealing $2 from gullible parents for every sawbuck they leave behind. It’s also never explained how the pilfered baby teeth (and the fairies themselves) make their way from terra firma to Julie Andrews’ Magical Land of Teeth and Tutus. All of these unexplored phenomena lead back to a likely cause of the belief deficit in the young: brainless, uninventive kids’ movies.