One of the ways to make a tried-and-true movie formula feel fresh is to cast good actors, and that's exactly what makes Tooth Fairy better than you might expect.
The setup goes like this: Semi-pro hockey player Derek Thompson (Dwayne Johnson) takes pride in his nickname "The Tooth Fairy," a handle he earned because of his remarkable skill at knocking out opponents' pearly whites. He believes that people -- especially kids -- need to lower their expectations so they won't be disappointed by life, a pessimistic outlook that puts him in conflict with the single mom (Ashley Judd) he's dating when her young daughter loses a tooth and Derek nearly tells the child that the Tooth Fairy isn't real. Later that night, he awakens to find himself sprouting a pair of wings, and then being transported to Fairy Land. It turns out that, because he keeps crushing the dreams of kids, he must spend two weeks working as an actual tooth fairy. Armed with invisible spray, shrinking paste, and amnesia powder, Derek sets about retrieving teeth, and learning a valuable lesson about holding on to your dreams.
The high-concept premise actually works because director Michael Lembeck -- a TV veteran -- keeps the gags moving along smoothly, and because the film has been cast superbly. Dwayne Johnson has a genuine knack for comedy, understandingly exactly how exaggerated he can be without crossing the line into annoying hamminess. Julie Andrews, as the leader of Fairy Land, lends the film her unadulterated charm, warmth, and professionalism. But the movie's secret weapon is British comedian Stephen Merchant, who plays the officious fairy in charge of supervising Derek on his molar-snatching missions. He and Johnson make a hilarious duo -- their bickering has some wonderful off-kilter timing -- and just the sight of Merchant's tall, lanky frame next to Johnson's muscular physique is amusing. Throw in a cameo from Billy Crystal as the Fairy Land equivalent of James Bond's Q, and you realize that the movie has won you over just because the performers are so amusing.
Sure, nothing surprising happens during the course of the story. But, the way the standard scenes of reconciliation (Derek has to make amends for breaking the heart of his girlfriend's young son) and redemption go down make it worthwhile. The film doesn't talk down to kids, and it doesn't insult adults either. Tooth Fairy falls short of required viewing, but it's a pleasant surprise.