Early in "Tooth Fairy," a minor-league hockey player named Derek Thompson talks to a youngster with dreams of NHL glory. "Lower your expectations," he says, snuffing those starry eyes. "That's how you're going to be happy."
Parents, you'd never give a child such awful advice. But it's worth heeding before you see this movie.
Dwayne Johnson plays Thompson, whose big-league career ended with a blown shoulder. Now he's just a brawler nicknamed the Tooth Fairy for his ability to knock out incisors. Off the ice, he's dating Carly (Ashley Judd), whose little girl, Tess (Destiny Grace Whitlock), adores him. Her sullen tweener, Randy (Chase Ellison, good in a trite role), isn't as impressed.
After Derek tries to tell Tess the real story behind teeth, pillows and dollars, he is magically summoned to Fairyland - a cross between James Bond's MI6 and your local DMV - and found guilty of "disseminating disbelief." That pronouncement comes from none other than Julie Andrews (playing Judi Dench's M), who sentences Derek to serve time as an actual tooth fairy. Billy Crystal, as a kind of Q, dispenses amnesia dust, shrinking paste and other gadgets.
"Tooth Fairy" seesaws frustratingly between high-concept comedy (screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel gave us "Splash") and subpar kiddie fare (director Michael Lembeck gave us "The Santa Clause 2"). Inventive jokes, like a black-market fairy who sells Derek some invisibility spray (read: steroids), share space with lackluster slapstick and too many cliched characters. The role of a sneering Brit goes not to Ricky Gervais but to his co-creator of "The Office," Stephen Merchant.
Johnson has undeniable kid appeal - he's the dad who could definitely beat up another dad - but he keeps aiming low in anemic movies like this one. Maybe he's been taking Derek Thompson's lousy advice.