The Shaggy Dog

In my dream remake of "The Shaggy Dog," Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonze and either Jim Carrey or Nicolas Cage, explore the utter absurdity and madness that would accompany a normal family man being transformed into a confused canine, delving into the character's newfound animalistic desires, his dramatically reversed power relationship to the world and his disturbing new dependency on his wife and children. Disney, recognizing the financial promise of the franchise, goes a different way with their new film. Directed by Brian Robbins and starring Tim Allen, this "Shaggy Dog" is an inoffensive, flat mainstream movie without a whiff of actual inspiration.

Dave Douglas (Allen) is an ambitious attorney. Like all Disney patriarchs, he has a perky wife (Kristin Davis) with no meaningful profession. He's also got the obligatory teenage son (Spencer Breslin) who fears disappointing him and a rebellions teenage daughter (Zena Grey). He's so busy working that he ignores them all. When a genetically modified bearded collie bites him, Dave turns into a bit of a dog himself. Is it possible that by becoming a dog, Dave might also become a better man? Yes, duh. The screenplay, credited to at least five writers, doesn't get any deeper. There's something about an evil scientist played by Robert Downey Jr., but I couldn't look at his character without thinking, "This is what Downey got sober for?"

Allen is a reliably likeable comic figure and as the "Santa Clause" films have illustrated, the "inexplicable transformation" genre is one that he can do in his sleep. The most notable thing about Allen's performance is how safe he plays it. He eats with his face in the cereal bowl, lifts his leg to use the urinal and, with the help of effects, runs a bit on four legs. If the improv exercise was "Pretend you're a dog," Allen's got it down, but he never does anything unexpected. He's also stuck doing lame "Look Who's Talking Now"-style voiceovers for much of the film.

While Downey contributes some off-kilter line readings and a chuckle-worthy transformation of his own, Robbins seems to have directed Davis and the kids to given wooden performances straight out of those classic Wonderful World of Disney family flicks.

The film's effects are equally unimpressive. While there's a cute running gag featuring doggie-shaped DNA floating through Dave's bloodstream, Robbins and his team opt to entirely skip the mechanics of Dave's transformation. Surely Rick Baker was around to try some "An American Sheepdog in Los Angeles"-style morphing action. The centerpiece sequence -- Dave chases a cat through the street to the melodic strains of "Who Let the Dogs Out?" -- is full of blurry computer enhancements. Better effects include some amusing lab animal/dog hybrids, including a bulldog-frog that the kids are likely to love.

Without any plot-based urgency to carry the day, "The Shaggy Dog" just paddles its tedious way towards an ending that resolves almost none of its central problems. The sequel is both inevitable and, in this case, undesired.

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