''The Pacifier" is to Vin Diesel exactly as ''Kindergarten Cop" was to Arnold Schwarzenegger: an attempt to sand the sharp edges off a movie tough guy and show he can play cute with the kids. Fine, but since Diesel is already a B-movie version of Arnold, and since the movie plays like it was cobbled together from sheetrock and carpet tacks, this makes ''The Pacifier" just worth your children's time, and hardly worth yours.
The setup is formulaic and, as these things go, foolproof. Macho Navy SEAL Shane Wolf is assigned to guard the Bethesda, Md., clan of a deceased Pentagon scientist while the widow (Faith Ford) travels to Europe to look for evidence of her husband's Big Invention, a gizmo that jams missile launches. Shane's also on the lookout for this MacGuffin at home, but when the kooky Czech baby sitter (Carol Kane, paying the rent) ups and quits, he's forced into such duties as nappy-changing and curfew-enforcing.
The big joke is -- are you ready? -- Shane hates children. And they hate him, ''they" being sullen proto-punker Seth (Max Theriot), shopaholic dingbat Zoe (Brittany Snow; parents, please stop naming your children after French departements), sassy tweener Lulu (Morgan York), random toddler Peter (twins Keegan and Logan Hoover), and baby Tyler (twins Bo and Luke Vink), the latter specializing in fluid leakage from both ends.
''The Pacifier" leaks an awful lot of fluid, too, all the more so toward the end, when it turns sentimental and weird. Shane and the kids come around to each other, of course, and his military discipline turns out to be just what these latchkey brats need -- the film's part of the same indulgent-parent guilt trip that has produced TV's heinous ''Nanny 911." He also foils a couple of North Korean ninja bad guys who are after the gizmo, which only proves that Arabs are now officially out as go-to bad guys for lame Hollywood movies.
There's nothing wrong with a tough-guy/cute-kid flick when it's competently done, and, indeed, individual segments of ''The Pacifier" are as funny as one might hope: Shane teaching Lulu's Brownie troop the proper martial arts moves to deal with a posse of thuggish Boy Scouts, or a bit involving Seth and a Nazi armband that you think can't possibly end well yet manages to pay off cleverly. There's also a pet duck whose one funny scene is in the trailer.
Too many other sequences are just bizarre, including the James-Bond-in-the-garage climax and any and all scenes involving Brad Garrett of ''Everybody Loves Raymond." He plays a blowhard sadist of a wrestling coach who has it in for Seth and who's amusingly dispatched on the mat by Shane. Garrett plays the role far over the top, while Lauren Graham (of TV's ''Gilmore Girls") stands around itching to do something mischievous in the rote part of the school-principal love interest.
They're both left high and dry by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant's script, even sloppier and more nonsensical than the one they wrote for the Jimmy Fallon/Queen Latifah retread ''Taxi." Adam Shankman's direction, meanwhile, fails even at the simple task of connecting the movie's prefabricated pieces. He's great at covering his star in poo, though, and Diesel, who still seems like the luckiest shopping mall security guard on earth, wears it like it's perfume.
Who knows? Maybe it is, given that current DVD sales of ''family product" guarantee this barely professional time-waster a place in every rec room. Will your children enjoy it? Probably; mine liked it well enough. Everyone else will recognize it as the lazy grab for mommy and daddy's hard-earned cash it is.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.