Friday, March 4, 2005

The Pacifier

Navy S.E.A.L. Shane Wolf (Vin Diesel) is in charge of a snatch and extract mission: he is assigned to bring Professor Howard Plummer (Tate Donovan), who has been kidnapped because of the military secret he has developed, to safety. Just when they are about to board a helicopter after his rescue, Plummer stops to call his wife and five children. Shane turns his back, the enemy attacks; Shane is shot and the professor is killed.


After Shane recovers, he is assigned to guard the five Plummer children while Mrs. Plummer (Faith Ford) accompanies Shane’s commanding officer to Switzerland to retrieve the contents of a safety deposit box. Shane accepts the mission to guard the children mostly because he is ashamed of losing a man; what he gets is dirty diapers, kids who can’t handle their grief (one is Brittany Snow of NBC's America Dreams), a little girl’s crush, a pet duck and people who want to get Plummer’s secret program. And don’t forget a hint of romance between Shane and the school principal Claire Fletcher (Lauren Graham.)


On a comedy scale, “Man of the House” was way funnier. To be fair, “The Pacifier” seems, at first look, aimed at a younger audience; it is, after all, from Disney.  On another level, I think it is saying a lot more to thoughtful viewers. It handled the challenge of domesticating a Navy S.E.A.L. and the militarizing of five kids pretty well. Where have we heard this story before? Hmm. Plummer. A modern American version of "The Sound of Music"?


If we look below the surface, it’s easy to see that Disney is giving the public a film that makes sense in a nation at war; it’s not called "The Pacifier" only because Shane can make a baby stop crying.  Upon reflection, I think the film makes for a very uncritical analogy of the past and present national and international threats to peace. First, the film recalls war with Serbia. Then when Shane has to break down Seth’s (Max Thieriot) bedroom door, the boy yells at Shane for using “shock and awe” tactics (the march to Baghdad). The culprits turn out to be in the employ of North Korea (a portent of things to come?)


It is interesting that the play that Seth gets a role in is “The Sound of Music”, that the writers took this national favorite as the basis for their story because "The Pacifier" besides being a comedy is also about the threat and reality of war. I don’t think the strongly implied analogy between the Von Trapp Family and the Nazi threat with the contemporary US state of war with Iraq and threats to US national and, by extension international security, hold up at all. I wish the writers would have been more thoughtful. The US war with Iraq is not the same at all as the one that framed "The Sound of Music."


As media literacy specialists and culture theorists assert: at the end of the day, mainstream information and entertainment media reinforce the political and economic status quo. “The Pacifier” seems appealing, it has a few good laughs, it favors family, the characters grow and changem but at the end of the day, what’s it really saying to and about our national consciousness? I would hope that critical viewers will question the premise of this film.


What do you think? Who is Vin Diesel really pacifying? A baby? A bunch of kids? Or us?

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