EntertainmentMoviesPetsMatthew ModineNancy TravisSamuel L. JacksonEric Stoltz

Friday June 2, 1995

     No wonder "Fluke" takes 50 of its 95 minutes to get to the heart of the matter, for in that time it has to sell us not only on the notion of reincarnation but also that humans can come back as dogs. That's an awful lot of suspending of disbelief to ask of an audience, but youngsters may be able to go along with it. Even so, parents should know at the outset that there are scenes of animal abuse too intense for the very young.
     Fluke is a totally appealing mutt, an animal shelter escapee taken in tow by another likable canine, the streetwise Rumpo, who teaches the younger dog how to survive and even enjoy life in the big city (an unnamed Atlanta). But Fluke keeps dreaming of two young men (Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz) racing their cars down a highway in the woods, with one of the men plunging off the road to his death.
     Director/co-writer Carlo Carlei ever so gradually (at least for younger viewers) lets it sink in that Fluke is indeed the reincarnation of Modine. After those 50 minutes of urban adventures, Fluke does latch onto Modine's family, his lovely widow (Nancy Travis) and small son (Max Pomeranc), who live in a mansion in a nearby small town. It is Fluke's impression that Stoltz, Modine's partner in an "advanced mechanical design" corporation, is responsible for Modine's death; what's more, Stoltz is clearly intent on consoling the widow.
     Carlei brings to "Fluke" the same urgency he brought to his terrific Italian debut film, the 1993 thriller "Flight of the Innocent," in which a 10-year-old boy--sole survivor of a Calabrian vendetta--runs for his life. On a technical level he succeeds in that he surely does allow us to see life from a dog's point of view. But if you have a tough time accepting that Fluke is Modine--and that Fluke and Rumpo can speak English "mentally" to each other--the first with the voice of Modine, the second with that of Samuel L. Jackson--then all of Carlei's earnestness seems increasingly silly and maudlin, an effect underlined heavily by Carlo Siliotto's relentlessly florid score. In fairness, Carlei--who's shamelessly manipulative--does score two good points: that as a dog Modine spends more time playing with his son than he did as his dad, and the way in which Fluke finally manages to reveal to Travis that he is indeed the reincarnation of her late husband.
     Maybe if "Fluke," which might have been better as an animated feature, weren't such a lavish, big-deal production and closer to the modest level of the recent--and pleasant little--pig movie "Gordy," it wouldn't seem so overwhelmingly, at times even laughably, foolish. The film's human actors acquit themselves admirably under the circumstances, but there's no question that the stars are Comet (as Fluke) and Barney (as Rumpo), bolstered by excellent trainers and special-effects personnel.

Fluke, 1995. PG, for a dog attack and a disturbing car crash. An MGM presentation of a Rocket Pictures production. Director Carlo Carlei. Producers Paul Maslansky, Lata Ryan. Executive producers Jon Turtle and Tom Coleman. Screenplay by Carlei and James Carrington; from a novel by James Herbert. Cinematographer Raffaele Mertes. Editor Mark Conte. Costumes Elisabetta Beraldo. Music Carlo Siliotto. Production designer Hilda Stark. Art director Richard Fojo. Set decorator Dayna Lee. Visual effects supervisor Paolo Zeccara. Animal coordinators David J. McMillan, Christie Miele. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. Matthew Modine as Thomas Johnson. Nancy Travis as Carol Johnson. Eric Stoltz as Jeff Newman. Max Pomeranc as Brian Johnson. Comet Fluke as (voice of Modine). Rumpo Barney as (voice of Samuel L. Jackson).

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