Vin Diesel is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and it’s all thanks to his commitment to family. Look at his two biggest roles. In the Fast and the Furious franchise, he is the leader and defacto dad of the Fast and Furious gang. In Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot’s deep familial bond with Rocket is essential to the formation of the Guardians. Both of these massive franchises revolve around the celebration of unconventional families, crews of people together who are not blood but create a bond that makes them eternally connected. A quick look over Diesel’s filmography shows he has been bringing unconventional families to the big screen for most of his career. One of his earliest and best examples was the Pacifier, a criminally underrated film that features one of the most nuanced and funniest performances of his career. It also is a surprisingly moving movie that subtly reinforces the notion that a family is whatever you make it the thesis statement of Vin Diesel’s entire career.
The plot of the Pacifier is not great. It involves assassinations, a safety deposit box in Zurich, and a suspected teen nazi, but all you really need to know is that Diesel is a Navy SEAL who is forced to head to the suburbs and become the undercover nanny for five kids. It’s a classic fish out of water story, as Diesel can handle the extremities that come with being a Navy Seal but is in over his head when it comes to changing a diaper or talking to a teenager about boy troubles. Eventually, Diesel learns to connects with the kids individually, and then as a unit as he becomes the surrogate father for them. This sounds like cliche stuff, and it totally is, but it also works. Why? Because the movie requires a side of Diesel we don’t really get to see anymore: Fun Vin Diesel.
This movie serves as a reminder that he is capable of accessing a wider range of emotions than the punching robot he has played for the last decade or so.
To be clear, Diesel is still in a ton of fun movies. The Fast and Furious movies might be the most fun franchise in modern cinema. but Diesel himself has seemed to have fun on screen in about 10 years. Seeing him in this movie is wonderful because he actually seems to be enjoying himself. He is goofy and relaxed, dutifully kicking ass one minute and then doing the Peter Panda dance the next. And it’s great. Diesel is pure muscle and pumped up masculinity, so when he subverts those expectations, it’s hilarious and even, at times, moving. Diesel is probably never going to win an Oscar, but this movie serves as a reminder that he is capable of accessing a wider range of emotions than the punching robot he has played for the last decade or so.
As silly as the movie is, it is sweet to see Diesel connect with the kids and try to understand them on their level instead of just being a strict authority figure in their lives. To become a member of the family, he has to earn it, and that is what he does over the course of the movie. There is an emotional resonance that is subtly potent, even when Diesel is the bumbling new parental figure he is still learning to connect with these kids.
Diesel’s obsession with family has been well-documented at this point, and specifically, he loves families that are built out of extreme circumstances instead of blood relation. This movie is every bit as much a tribute to unconventional families as any of the Fast and Furious movies. Diesel goes from a Navy Seal terrified by these kids to their dad who would do anything to protect them. He didn’t choose to watch them in the first place, but he chose for them to be his family and, for Diesel, that makes all the difference.
The Pacifier has largely been forgotten, and that’s a real shame because it’s an extremely fun and silly movie that features one of the best performances of Diesel’s long career. It also shows the origins of a family man Diesel, and has to be the only movie in history where the main villain is defeated by a duck. Perhaps it will experience a much-deserved renaissance of fandom someday, but until then let’s all do the Peter Panda dance in celebration of this underrated classic.