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'Game Plan' is family fun close to home

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson plays a quarterback for a Boston team and Madison Pettis is his daughter in 'The Game Plan.' Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plays a quarterback for a Boston team and Madison Pettis is his daughter in "The Game Plan." (Ron Phillips/Disney Enterprises)

With "The Game Plan," Boston gets a piece of The Rock. The pro wrestler's transformation into a movie star is just about complete and it's reflected in his billing: these days he's Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the same way Johnny Cougar became John Cougar Mellencamp before settling into plain old John Mellencamp.

None of it would work if Dwayne, Rock - whatever - weren't such a sweetie pie. He's Arnold Schwarzenegger without the glower, and while he'll never be mistaken for Olivier, his quick smile and willingness to play along make him by far the most likable of modern movie muscleheads.

He's thus one of the reasons to see "The Game Plan." For local audiences, Boston's the other reason. Taking place in a bright, shallow Chamber of Commerce version of our town, the movie's appallingly formulaic family fare but it's so good-natured you don't much mind, and there's the guilty pleasure of seeing Boston the way the tourists from Ohio do: scullers on the Charles, the Summer Street bridge, the Custom House tower, the Barking Crab restaurant. The movie does everything short of stand on the Common and ask where the State House is.

Actually, "The Game Plan" takes place in an alterna-Hub, where the Patriots and Tom Brady don't exist. Instead, there's a red-garbed team called the Boston Rebels playing out at Foxborough, and their quarterback is a preening Namath-style superstar named Joe Kingman (The Rock). Joe loves himself so much that his vanity passes through offensiveness and comes out charming; anyway, you know he's riding for a fall because you've seen "Kindergarten Cop," "The Pacifier," and "Daddy Day Care."

At his door one day arrives a little girl named Peyton (Madison Pettis), the 7-year-old daughter of an early marriage that went bust. Why has Joe never heard of her? The movie works overtime to explain that one, but it's immaterial. Big jock/cute kid is all you need to know.

Mom's apparently doing relief work in the Sudan and is conveniently unreachable, so Peyton moves in with Joe, frightening his agent (Kyra Sedgwick, making her character nastier than she probably needs to be), charming his teammates, and applying plastic rhinestones to his Armani suits. The trite screenplay overdoes it on the precocious grown-up dialogue for the little girl, but Pettis is a natural, and the scene in which she and Joe's Russian supermodel girlfriend (Kate Nauta) size each other up has a kick worthy of "All About Eve."

Peyton's also a student ballerina, which gives "The Game Plan" an excuse to shoot at the Boston Ballet School and feature local young dancers as extras. More important, it means The Rock has to put on a leotard and dance in a production with the school's lissome teacher (Roselyn Sanchez). "You're a freakishly large man and you're telling me you're incapable of playing a tree?" she asks early on. Lady, he's called The Rock for a reason.

How obvious is "The Game Plan"? Joe has a pet bulldog, and director Andy Fickman cuts to a reaction shot of the mutt every bloody chance he gets. How conflicted is it? The movie delivers an anti-product endorsement message while cramming in shots of Coke cans, Dunkin' Donuts cups, and Disney TV shows. I get enough of "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody" at home, thanks.

Still, it's painless, especially if you have a small child in tow, and the Rock, bless his heart, acts like it's all new to him. (He must not be able to hear Nathan Wang's overbearing musical score, which underlines every plot turn with a blunt crayon.) The star should do more comedy - he's got quick reflexes and a face that lends itself to cartoon double takes, and he's not afraid to look completely ridiculous.

Above all, he steers clear of attempting a Boston accent. Maybe he's smarter than he looks.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/ movies/blog.

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The Game Plan

Directed by: Andy Fickman

Written by: Nichole Millard, Kathryn Price, and Audrey Wells

Starring: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Madison Pettis, Kyra Sedgwick, Roselyn Sanchez

At: Boston Common, Fenway, Boston, and suburbs

Running time: 110 minutes

Rated: PG (mild thematic elements)

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