Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Shaggy Dog

THE SHAGGY DOG (Brian Robbins, 2006)

Dave Douglas (Tim Allen) is the kind of father who is dedicated to his job and oblivious to the fact that he’s losing his family. His daughter Carly (Zena Grey) is angry with him because he’s prosecuting one of her favorite teachers, an animal rights protester accused of setting fire to a research laboratory. His son Josh (Spencer Breslin) would rather fail math so he can’t play football rather than tell dad that he prefers the stage to the gridiron. Dave’s wife Rebecca (Kristin Davis) can see these problems but can’t convince her husband of them.

In THE SHAGGY DOG Dave is representing a medical research firm that is secretly working on extending life exponentially. Their subject is an abducted Tibetan sheepdog whose biology reverses nature so that seven years in human time is like one year for him. The dog gets loose and is brought to the Douglas household, where he bites the pet-averse Dave. Shortly thereafter Dave develops a dog’s habits and transforms into a sheepdog.

His new perspective allows him to relate differently to his family, but his wife and kids believe he’s more absent than ever. Dave also uncovers the bad work his medical clients are doing, but convincing a judge and jury will be difficult since his erratic courtroom behavior has had him removed from the case.

Like everyone in Hollywood, Disney likes to dip into its back catalog and update previous successes for new generations. This remake of 1959's THE SHAGGY DOG is heavy on the special effects, some of which are convincing and some of which aren’t, but the biggest difference is how the film becomes another commentary on the lamentable state of today’s parents. While there’s plenty of silliness for the kids, the film emphasizes how Dave doesn’t put his family first, how this threatens his marriage, and how his kids are pulling away from him. Such stuff is misplaced in what is supposed to be a lighthearted family movie. The same goes for the animal rescue content, which injects ideological material into a story where it isn’t a good fit.

Allen has his role as the misfit dad down pat, and he proves to be a talented physical comedian when he behaves like a dog in a human’s body. If only THE SHAGGY DOG had more scenes with him acting like a dog and fewer with him supplying voiceover when Dave is a dog, then it might have been funny enough to cancel out the more serious themes driving it.

Grade: C+

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