Championship wrestler turned actor Dwayne Johnson (aka “The Rock”) was spotted at the NHL Powered Reebok Store in New York City Wednesday (Jan 20) meeting with fans and doing some promo for his new movie “Tooth Fairy,” which hits theaters nationwide today (Fri,. Jan 22).

“Tooth Fairy” is cute. Which is to say that Dwayne Johnson is cute. How could anybody with the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger (circa 1984) and the smile of Cameron Diaz not be, especially when dressed — albeit briefly — in a pink tutu?

The Artist Formerly Known as The Rock shines as Derek Thompson, a once-promising pro hockey player now relegated to the minors who is sentenced to perform a bizarre kind of community service after almost destroying a little girl’s (Destiny Whitlock) belief in the Tooth Fairy. The muscle-bound yet genial wrestler-turned-actor — who has recently become the go-to guy for kids’ comedies with such fare as “Planet 51,” “Race to Witch Mountain” and “Get Smart” — almost single-handedly carries this movie on his broad, beefy back. It’s not heavy lifting; the movie is as light as cotton candy, minus the cavities.

When bitterness over his own career setback prompts Derek to blurt out to his girlfriend’s (Ashley Judd) daughter that there’s no such thing as you-know-who, he finds himself with a summons from the Department of the Dissemination of Disbelief, where a sort of executive fairy godmother (Julie Andrews) orders him to time as one of her army of tooth fairies. The irony is that Derek’s hockey nickname — earned from his propensity to knock out opponents’ teeth — is itself the Tooth Fairy.

Wait a minute, you’re saying, there’s more than one Tooth Fairy? In this movie, there is.

In fact, one of the film’s charms is the way it carries childhood mythology to its logical, if absurd extreme. Surely one person, even a magical one, couldn’t collect all the teeth lost in any given day all over the world, leaving money in their place. Santa Claus, remember, has a staff of elfin helpers. The movie envisions this tooth business not as the work of a single individual, but as the job of a well-oiled bureaucracy. Something like the Postal Service, only more efficient. Supplementing the work of career fairies are occasional draftees, like Derek.

The film’s funniest scenes feature Derek on the job, assisted by a wingless fairy caseworker named Tracy (Stephen Merchant).

Other treats include an uncredited appearance by Billy Crystal. He plays the fairy equivalent of James Bond’s gadget man Q, parceling out such company-approved aids as shrinking paste, invisibility powder and amnesia dust. All of which come in handy when Derek is confronted by locked doors, parents who are still awake and the occasional little boy who opens his eyes to discover a two-inch-tall man with wings crawling out from under his pillow. “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane also makes a nice cameo as Ziggy, a pusher of inferior-grade street versions of the aforementioned controlled substances.

Of course, there’s a sticky-sweet message, too. Something about the importance of following your dreams, even against all odds. For those who care, there’s even a come-from-behind sports story line that’s so prominent it’s almost more of a film-within-a-film than a subplot.

But “Tooth Fairy’s” best moments have less to do with faith than with cold, hard analysis. It’s at its best not when it gets all touchy-feely, but when it’s showing us just how the business model of nocturnal tooth collection and cash disbursement might actually work. Not just in some fantasy world, but in this one.

Turns out “Tooth Fairy” is less about the power of imagination than logistics.

** 1/2 PG. At area theaters. Contains hockey violence and crude humor, but nothing major. 101 minutes.


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