Total Recall: The Game Plan and Big Guys With Small Chicks

Hollywood parenting 101: Kindergarten Cop, Mr. Nanny, and The Pacifier.

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After generating middling box office returns on movies like Doom and Walking Tall, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson takes a career adjustment into comedy with The Game Plan, opening this Friday.  He portrays a quarterback whose bachelor lifestyle is interrupted after suddenly being confronted with a daughter from an earlier relationship. This week, we'll look at other action stars who have opened up their Lunchables and shared the limelight.

It was probably easier to make a movie like The Game Plan in the early 1990s than it is today.  Back then, action cinema ran solely on brawn. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris: they molded themselves into one man armies on the big screen, and seeing them break their image in broad comedies like 1990's Kindergarten Cop (50 percent on the Tomatometer) was something too outlandish for a studio exec not to green light. But the age of the NES has passed and now we want our heroes complex and infallible.  We want Jason Bourne, we want a moody James Bond. In other words, we want actors who aren't known for their action movies.

Yet, Hollywood's a big place. Room is being cleared for the jocks to take over again: 300 (60 percent) was one of the biggest movies of the year, wrestlers are striking up movie contracts, and even Ice Cube, once self-proclaimed to be America's most wanted man, is doing poop jokes with prepubescents. It goes to show you're never a reputable action star until you have the clout to risk it all away on a kids movie.

Kindergarten Cop: the undisputed king of the meathead-out-of-his-element pictures. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as John Kimble, a reckless detective who takes an undercover job as a kindergarten teacher. An at-large drug trafficker's son is in his class and Schwarzenegger must root him out as only a 6'2'' Austrian loose cannon can. Admittedly, Kindergarten Cop is tonally inconsistent; the violence, comedy, and mushy love subplot never gel convincingly, a surprise considering this comes from Ivan Reitman, the great genre-masher behind Ghostbusters (93 percent). Regardless, film culture has already immortalized Kindergarten Cop, mostly for Schwarzenegger's impeccably blunt line delivery ("Who is your daddy and what does he do?"; "It is not a toomur!", etc).

Of the action stars that emerged in the 1980s, Schwarzenegger was the first to display a sense of a humor. After his first two concerted efforts to poke holes in his tough guy image -- 1988's Twins (30 percent) and Kindergarten Cop -- resulted in $100 million blockbusters, the way was paved for similar fare like Sylvester Stallone's Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (6 percent) and Chuck Norris's Top Dog (0 percent). Schwarzenegger clearly showed early leadership aptitude in choosing Kindergarten Cop, qualifying him to be current mastermind of the sixth largest economy on Earth.

Once Schwarzenegger established himself as a cinematic force -- part of an awesome decade-long run starting with The Terminator (100 percent) and ending with True Lies (68 percent) -- few looked capable in matching his influence and popularity.  Enter Terry "Hulk" Hogan. Hogan wisely tried establishing himself as counterprogramming to R-rated action heroes, a family-friendly entity accessible to mass consumers who knew of him from from TV. Hogan starred in 1993's Mr. Nanny (7 percent) as Sean Armstrong, a former pro wrestler hired to bodyguard an inventor and become ad hoc sitter to his bratty kids with penchants for sub-Home Alone booby traps.  Even for a movie starring Hulk Hogan, there's a surprising amount of slapstick violence: it's guaranteed that very few minutes will pass before somebody trips on something or a guy takes a fist to the face. Even Sherman Hemsley, as Hogan's along-for-the-ride former trainer, gets flipped over a couch during a fight.

As if to challenge Schwarzenegger's supremacy directly, in Mr. Nanny Hogan frequently matches brawn with Wolfgang, a brute obviously modeled in speech and manner after Schwarzenegger.  Wolfgang, in fact, is played by Peter Kent, Schwarzenegger's longtime stunt double, and Kent even prophetically calls Hogan a "girlie man," a term Schwarzenegger got rather familiar with in 2004.

As the economic viability of the action stars eroded, a new, different icon needed to take over. For a while it looked like Vin Diesel was willing to bear the brunt. After making The Fast and the Furious and xXx, Diesel loosens his image for 2005's The Pacifier (21 percent), starring as a no-nonsense Navy S.E.A.L. taking care of a recently assassinated scientist's kids. Diaper jokes and drill exercises ensues.

The Pacifier was directed by Adam Shankman who, in a recent RT interview, was quick to admit that it was something he used to "loathe hearing" about. As Shankman puts it: "I took jobs like a dancer takes jobs; if something's offered to you, you take it. And I felt just privileged that somebody wanted me to work, and wanted whatever it was that I did, even if it was just to get it done, and get it done cleanly."

This past summer, Shankman scored a Certified Fresh box office hit with a remake of John Waters' camp classic, Hairspray (93 percent).  Shankman's career parallels somewhat with Game Plan director Andy Fickman's: both have given Amanda Bynes's career a boost (She's the Man), both have soft spots for musicals, and both are well-taught of the ins and outs of making unassuming, crowd-pleasing Hollywood entertainment. So, ought we be expecting a summer remake of Pink Flamingos from Andy Fickman soon? He might not be far off; he's already listed as attached to a remake of Fame.

With straight-up action stars slowly eking their way back, can we expect this comedy subgenre to also make a resurgence in the new Hollywood? I'm expecting "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Dakota Fanning to pool their acting talents soon for The Condemned 2: The Reckoning.