Thrusting a cold, hard badass into a domestic setting is a tried-and-true set-up for a mediocre family comedy. Big muscular tough guys like Vin Diesel (playing a Navy-SEAL-turned-babysitter in 2005’s “The Pacifier”), Dave Bautista (as a CIA agent looking after a nine-year-old girl in 2020’s “My Spy”), and Dwayne Johnson (as an NFL-player-turned-sudden-father in 2007’s “The Game Plan”) have all starred in movies that follow this dusty formula to a tee.

And every one of these films flounders largely because they rest on a single joke (isn’t it funny that someone so masculine is looking after kids) that isn’t actually all that funny.

To its slight credit, Apple TV+‘s new film “The Family Plan” downplays that type of humor significantly; its sole sort of original idea is that its wayward badass Dan (Mark Wahlberg, in this case) didn’t have his domestic life thrust upon him; he actively loves being a dad, happily changing his toddler’s diapers and fussing over his two scowling teenagers. A car salesman blissfully married for 18 years to physical therapist Jessica (Michelle Monaghan), Dan presents as a creature of habit to the point of boring even his own loved ones, a homebody who adores living in Buffalo, New York, abhors social media, and every year takes his wife to the same theme park where they had their first date.

However, as a series of shots of Wahlberg getting stressed out of thin air start to imply, Dan’s stick-in-the-mud tendencies have an ulterior motive. Before he met Jessica, he was a covert government assassin working with a secret paramilitary organization, one that he has been hiding from for years. A picture of him and his wife kissing uploaded by a random stranger on their anniversary gets his cover blown up (as contrived inciting incidents go, this one is up there), and he’s soon getting into a knife fight while grocery shopping with his toddler.

Unable to bear the thought of his family hating him for his secret, Dan (stupidly) decides not to inform them of the life-threatening danger they’re in and instead abruptly pulls them on a cross-country drive to Las Vegas (a location selected by Dan as a reasonable excuse for a road trip, and presumably by the film’s screenwriter David Coggeshall so it could have a big centerpiece segment that doubles as an ad for the city’s tourism board), where he’ll secretly meet with his former associate Augie (Saïd Taghmaoui) and receive new identities to hide out in again.

“The Family Plan’s” setup could be used to tell an adequately entertaining family-friendly flick, but director Simon Cellan Jones’ film consistently demonstrates why it was sent straight to streaming. Coggeshall’s screenplay doesn’t have the most aggravating elements of the various films it shares the same basic premise of, but it doesn’t add in anything new, either; it’s utterly predictable from the start, with almost no surprises that any kid of any age watching couldn’t see coming.

The film hits on various cut-and-dry beats adequately enough, but drags them out painfully over an overstretched 119-minute running time, filling that void with a shocking lack of jokes. The road trip section of the film is particularly bereft of forward momentum, as it delays Dan’s family from learning his secret for ages. When the inevitable finally happens, it proves oddly muted and anti-climatic. The third act almost entirely skips any real humor or laughs in favor of turning into a generic action film, which proves ill-conceived, considering how haphazardly thrown together and poorly edited the fight scenes on display are.

“The Family Plan”

With so little decent material to latch onto, the cast is largely left out to dry. As Jessica and Dan’s kids, Zoe Colletti and Van Crosby have a few charming moments, but their characters are one-note Gen Z archetypes (“social justice obsessed teen” and “gamer geek,” respectively). Monaghan feels particularly stranded in one of the most thankless oblivious wife parts in recent memory.

The only character who has any theoretical depth is Dan, but Wahlberg (who also produced the film) is utterly bland in the role. This isn’t his first time playing a dad with a bit of grit in a family comedy (he was also a bad boy father in the Will Ferrell “Daddy’s Home” movies), but he’s an awkward choice for the genre, neither possessing major comedic chops nor a warm and inviting screen presence. He isn’t capable of dramatizing the dichotomy between Dan’s violent past self and his squeaky-clean present reality, or making his tragic backstory feel like a real lived experience that informs his need for familial bliss. In Wahlberg’s hands, Dan simply feels like a boring middle-aged man who sometimes does hand-to-hand combat more than anything else.

At several points in the film, Jessica refers to the “two” Dans: the steady, slightly boring but reliable father and husband, and the more spontaneous and wild man she meets on the cross-country trip. “The Family Plan” resembles the first Dan more than the second, too predictable and formulaic to excite, without the juice to become a family favorite.

Grade: C

“The Family Plan” is now streaming on Apple TV+.

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