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Review: Adorable ‘Benji’ returns, with little effort to update

Benji the dog in a scene from “Benji.” Credit: Netflix
Benji the dog in the movie “Benji.”
(Netflix)

The 1974 sleeper hit “Benji,” which spawned four theatrical sequels, a series and several TV specials and cameo film appearances for the lovable title pooch, receives its inevitable reboot from Netflix and writer-director Brandon Camp, son of “Benji” creator Joe Camp.

The result, to be kind, is pretty underwhelming, a perfunctory kids-and-their-dog caper that despite running less than 90 minutes feels stretched to its limits. It’s a lost if not quite wasted opportunity; the movie should certainly fill a modest niche for undemanding children and hardcore dog lovers.

This time out, scrappy mixed-breed stray Benji befriends a young New Orleans brother and sister, Carter (Gabriel Bateman) and Frankie (Darby Camp, no relation to Brandon), whose dad recently died, leaving their ambulance driver mom, Whitney (Kiele Sanchez), overwhelmed and a bit under-attentive.

But when Carter and Frankie are kidnapped by a pair of robber brothers (Will Rothhaar, Angus Sampson), Benji, about the smartest, fleetest, most agile dog ever, leads the hunt to track down the kids and, in ways that strain credulity even for a fairy tale like this, saves the day.

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The film contains many moments of canine uber-cuteness that although not unbearable, are definitely a bit much. Fortunately, the kids here are less aggressively adorable and feel fairly authentic.

Still, this is the kind of movie in which a character says “I must be outta my doggone mind” without an ounce of irony.

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‘Benji’

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Playing: Streaming on Netflix

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