Who knew that Will Smith could deliver the year’s most unexpected and profoundly moving love story? He plays Ben a man with a deep dark secret that leads him help seven complete strangers each with their own particular set of circumstances. Constructed like a jigsaw puzzle we slowly get clues to the traumatic events that cause Ben to contact these people and change their lives in ways they never could have anticipated. What he doesn’t expect is to fall in love with one of them -- Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson) a cardiac patient whose heart may be weak but is clearly strong enough to make a difference in the way Ben looks at things. It’s this relationship that becomes the center of Grant Nieporte’s compelling screenplay but as it continues it’s obvious there is more to what Ben is doing a mystery not revealed until the final moments and one you will not easily forget. Will Smith is at his best. He may be the world’s No. 1 movie star at the moment but he’s continually proving himself to be a brilliant actor as well. Reteaming with director Gabriele Muccino who led him to a Best Actor Oscar nomination in The Pursuit of Happyness Smith once again finds his dramatic mojo in the role of a man whose life has been shattered by something so profoundly affecting that he reaches out to strangers in an effort to redeem himself. You will be hard-pressed to find the loveable Will Smith persona anywhere within this character. Dawson also has a career best as the spunky and courageous Emily a role that could have been sloppily sentimentalized and maudlin. She’s a revelation delivering a flawless and luminous performance. And best among the various recipients of Ben’s kindness is Woody Harrelson as a blind man he encounters. Also quite good is Barry Pepper as Ben’s childhood friend who is the only other person “in” on Ben’s master plan helping him to achieve his goal. He rips your heart out when he gets the call from Ben who says “It’s time.” Gabriele Muccino puts it all out there. He is an unapologetically emotional director and some will probably find fault with his style but as the Italian filmmaker proved in Pursuit of Happyness he knows exactly what he’s doing and where he’s taking the story. He’s most successful here in building suspense and an air of mystery around Smith’s character and then bringing it all home in a whopper of a final act. Clearly story acting and gut-level feeling are the three things that drive Muccino and his distinctive stamp and European approach is evident throughout. Most of all he has given Smith and Dawson a real showcase finding the meat of a story that’s one from the heart and good for the soul.
The Boston Rebels’ quarterback Joe Kingman (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) is known as one of the toughest most skilled NFL players to ever take the field; he's also probably the most self-absorbed. But his seemingly perfect bachelor life is suddenly thrown for a loop when he discovers Peyton (Madison Pettis) the 8-year-old daughter he never knew existed on his doorstep. Oops. Now instead of supermodels and late night parties Joe has to deal with baby dolls and bedtime stories--and it isn’t easy. But as the championship grows nearer Joe is about to realize what really matters has nothing to do with money endorsements or even touchdowns--it’s all about being selfless and winning the heart of the one little fan who turns out to count the most. Collectively now: “Awww!“ The Rock is Disney’s poster boy these days which must suit him just fine. He knows his limitations and playing a formidable football player whose heart is softened by a little girl’s love is just his cup of tea. And as the precocious Peyton Pettis (Disney Channel’s Cory in the House) hits all the right beats—feisty cute handy with the frilly arts and crafts and ballet tutus. There’s also Roselyn Sanchez as a ballet-school owner and Joe’s potential love interest/sparring partner especially since she doesn’t even know who he is when they first met. The only one in The Game Plan who is sorely out of place is Kyra Sedgwick (TV’s The Closer) as Joe’s hard-edged mega-agent a no-nonsense woman who only wants to milk whatever she can out of Joe’s fame. The talented actress is obviously too good for the material but to compensate she actually overdoes it. Might be better just to stick with the TV gig. Director Andy Fickman (She's the Man) follows a pretty standard playbook in guiding his Game Plan. There’s no fancy footwork in this movie—just basically get the ball pass the ball and gain the yards. It’s straight clean wholesomeness. In fact Game Plan is reminiscent of the old-school Disney live-action flicks of the ‘60s and ‘70s such as The Parent Trap. Coincidentally Fickman is also set to direct Witch Mountain the update of Disney’s 1975 Escape to Witch Mountain which will also star The Rock. Game Plan isn’t anything more than a pleasant way to spend an hour and half with your kids at the movie theater especially if it’s a father-daughter outing.