2 stars (out of four)
In movies as in life, superior technology doesn't necessarily trump humor, magic or really shaggy dogs.
As one of the two title characters in "The Shaggy Dog"-- Walt Disney Pictures' overblown remake of its 1959 boy-into-sheepdog comedy classic--Tim Allen gets a fair amount of laughs playing a full-of-himself guy caught in incessant Doggie-Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde transformations: sticking out a foot long prosthetic tongue, slamming his face into a bowl as he eats or madly running off to fetch every stick tossed in his vicinity.
They're cheap laughs, but at least they're laughs, which is more than most of the movie gives you. Thrown together from parts of the original "Dog" (in which teenager Tommy Kirk, as Wilby Daniels, was the canine-afflicted hero and Fred MacMurray his dad) and the 1976 sequel "The Shaggy D.A." (which followed Dean Jones as the adult Wilby running for district attorney), it's a typical hit picture remake, which is never a good sign.
Allen, with that family-guy and "Santa Clause" absurdity we know so well, plays Dave Douglas, a deputy D.A. running for the head job while handling a criminal case about over zealous protests against insidious animal experiments by the nefarious, ego-crazed Dr. Kozak (Robert Downey Jr.). Dave's animal-loving family, meanwhile, adopts a bearded collie named Shaggy and, in the course of the case, Dave inevitably turns dog himself, along with the movie.
After getting infected by Kozak's serum from the animal laboratory where Dr. Moreau-like mutations with dog-frogs and dog-bunnies are going on, Dave gets an animal's eye view of things. But he also suddenly starts turning canine at madly inappropriate moments--in the middle of arguments before starchy Judge Claire Whittaker, played by Jane Curtin, at her meanest.
The old "Shaggy" was a family niche movie primarily for children and teenage fans of the Disney TV shows. (Teen heartthrob Annette Funicello had a supporting role). This one tries to tap Baby Boomer and multi generational TV nostalgia while also reaching for the huge audience that wants to see Allen drool, slobber, fetch sticks and lift his leg high in the men's room.
But director Brian Robbins (1999's "Varsity Blues") pushes too hard here with too little. His five screenwriters, including a writing team called the Wibberleys, have supplied him with little beyond the usual mix of gross gags, high-tech tomfoolery, a little political correctness and a near-criminal waste of time for good actors.
Besides Allen, Curtin and Downey --not to mention Coal, who plays Shaggy--the short-changed cast includes Danny Glover as Dave's irritated boss, Philip Baker Hall (the great Nixon of Robert Altman's 1984 "Secret Honor") as deceived Kozak associate Lance Strictland and Kristin Davis ( "Sex and the City's" Charlotte) as Dave's bewildered wife. With that cast, you could easily make a good doggie comedy of some kind. But many viewers of this one will probably mourn the days of furry Tommy Kirk and of Annette in a convertible, a time when you could make a movie dog without squandering millions on stars, mutant dog-bunnies and prosthetic tongues.
'The Shaggy Dog'
Directed by Brian Robbins; written by the Wibberleys (Marianne and Cormac), Geoff Rodkey, Jack Amiel, Michael Begler; photographed by Gabriel Beristain; edited by Ned Bastille; production designed by Leslie McDonald; music by Alan Menken; produced by David Hoberman, Tim Allen. A Walt Disney Pictures release, distributed by Buena Vista Pictures; opens Friday. Running time: 1:39. MPAA rating: PG (for some mild, rude humor).
Dave Douglas - Tim Allen
Dr. Kozak - Robert Downey Jr.
Rebecca Douglas - Kristin Davis
Ken Hollister - Danny Glover
Carly Douglas - Zena Grey
Josh Douglas - Spencer Breslin
Judge Claire Whittaker - Jane Curtin
Lance Strictland - Philip Baker HallCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times