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STUDIO: Walt Disney Video
RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes
- Deleted scenes
- Underdog Raps music video by Kyle Massey
- Sit. Stay. Act: Diary of a Dog Actor
- Original Underdog cartoon
Great, yet another flying dog movie…
Jason Lee (Underdog), Jim Belushi, Peter Dinklage, Patrick Warburton, Alex Neuberger, Taylor Momsen, Amy Adams (Polly).
Looks like the Hong Kong Phooey flick is under way as well…
When a former police dog stumbles across the experiments of mad scientist Simon Barsinister (Dinklage), he’s endowed with superpowers that basically make him "Superman with a flea collar." The dog is found by night watchman Dan Unger (Belushi) who takes him home to his son, Jack (Neuberger) who is withdrawn after the death of his mother. Jack and the dog, named Shoeshine by Unger, form a fast friendship after Jack realizes that Shoeshine is no ordinary dog. When Shoeshine accidentally saves a girl and her dog, Polly, on whom Shoeshine has a crush, Jack convinces him that he should use his superpowers for good. So Jack fashions him a costume and Shoeshine becomes the crimefighting Underdog. But Barsinister isn’t done with Underdog yet and is plotting revenge and a scheme to steal his powers and use them for evil.
"So you gonna be my bitch or what?"
"Wait a minute, where the hell do you get off calling me a bitch?!"
I had no preconceptions going into Underdog other than the hope that it wasn’t going to be in the same vein as the unending string of vacuous talking animal movies that have been played out for years now in Hollywood to everyone over the age of a used pair of sneakers. I wasn’t a devotee of the old (and rather badly drawn) cartoon. I’m old enough to have been familiar with it, but I never signed up for the Cult of Underdog Fundamentalists. And knowing that this is going to be a family friendly kid flick, I kept my expectations low, generally as I loathe family friendly kid flicks. So as long as Underdog could keep the yucks and canine flying action at a fairly high level, I was willing to give it a go. So how did the film play out? Well if you read several other reviews, you’d see that other reviewers lambaste it for being only tangentially related to the source material. How could the producers make these horrid choices in crafting this thing? It’s almost nothing like the cartoon. Well, it is a live-action movie about a talking dog with superpowers, geniuses.
"Hey jerkoff…yeah you behind the wind machine! You wanna maybe cool it on that thing a bit?"
I’ll probably be in the vast minority here, but I found Underdog more than just a little watchable. I even kind of liked it. First off, I think that Jason Lee as the titular canine was fairly enjoyable and I could see how it could appeal to kids. Shoeshine is an adorable little mutt, and a real dog, not one of those little rat turds Paris Hilton is usually sporting during a night of clubbing. The dogs portraying Shoeshine are trained well and seem to perform nicely, although they generally look miserable when they’re flying. Considering that they’re probably hoisted in a harness with a giant fan set on 10 blasting them in the face, I can’t say as I blame them. But the amalgamation of the Beagles and Jason Lee’s voice proved to be a nice combination I thought.
"Can you read my mind?"
"Oh, well can you sniff my behind?"
"Now you’re talkin’…"
So of course a super dog needs a super villain, and Peter Dinklage is brought on to portray the evil Dr. Mengele of the canine set, Dr. Simon Barsinister, who’s looking to recombine DNA into dogs to create a super force of ball lickers with which he can rule the world. Okay it’s not Mamet, but just remember to allow for the target audience here, okay? First thing that comes to mind with the casting of Dinklage: we’re a long way from The Station Agent. Nevertheless, Dinklage is suitably slimy as the heartless doctor who becomes obsessed with capturing Shoeshine when the dog refuses to play lab rat, yet becomes an enhanced Beagle when several chemicals spill on him. Barsinister is also maimed in the same accident by a falling plasma screen, which doesn’t add any sunshine to his already unpleasant demeanor.
Really then, the only other key character to be cast is Jack, the boy who becomes Shoeshine’s new master and best friend, and Neuberger is fine. Jim Belushi headlines yet another dog flick (remember K-9 and its two direct-to-video sequels? Didn’t think so). I’ve always liked Belushi and wish I could see him in some more mainstream roles where he can use his talents of comedic action like back in the Red Heat and The Principal days. Patrick Warburton – whom I also like, especially in the genius that is The Venture Bros. - nevertheless plays another big dumb guy in Cad. There’s some ‘tween actress I’ve never seen starring as Jack’s love interest and of course she has a little canine cutie who curls Underdog’s ears back.
"You see what my dog and your dog are doing over there?"
"Getting any bright ideas…?"
From there, you can generally feel how the rest of the movie is going to play out with the inevitable dog jokes: drinking out of the bowl, sniffing behinds, and the girlfriend and bitch in trouble, villain hatches world domination plot, super dog saves the day, etc. Although I think for the most part, it plays it out better than I would have given it credit for. The flying scenes and superpower displays are fun, and Shoeshine and Jack have a likeable rapport, especially in the early going when they discover all of the things that the dog can do and fashion his superhero shtick. Once you get past the bumbling scenes of Cad and Dinklage, and the inevitable superhero courting scenes between Underdog and Polly (that’s the bitch by the way) – and damned if they don’t have a "can you read my mind" scene and an Underdog and cat burglar on the side of a high rise scene – the movie as a whole isn’t an altogether bad watch and is perfectly suited for kids.
"Uh, Dr. Venture, shouldn’t we get the other Dr. Venture and the boys before we set out on this adventure?"
"Don’t bother me with details, Brock…"
The package here is also pretty fun. The menus have Underdog flying and making quips, there’s a choice of wide and full screen and there are several special features. There’s a blooper reel that runs about 90 seconds and three deleted scenes with optional director intros. There’s a rap video by some kid named Kyle Massey whom I’ve never heard of titled Underdog Raps; and a quickie featurette, Sit. Stay. Act: Diary of a Dog Actor which details Underdog’s days on the set and has a bit of history of the character. Finally, an original Underdog cartoon rounds out the offerings.