Friday, Oct. 10
Good Boy! would represent the worst nightmare of W.C. Fields -- a movie about kids and talking dogs. For everyone else, the film is a cheerful tall tale that may make a significant contribution to both pet adoptions in North America and MGM's bottom line. For Good Boy! -- a likable family film -- should have legs, albeit furry ones.
First-time director John Hoffman, who along with Zeke Richardson adapted Richardson's radio play Dogs From Outer Space, keeps the movie upbeat and lighthearted the entire way. This doesn't allow him to dig into the darker side to childhood -- loneliness and isolation caused by a family that moves constantly -- which the film hints at but never really explores. But it does allow ample time for the film's canine stars to strut their stuff.
The idea here is that a dog arrives from outer space -- a border terrier from the dog star Sirius, to be exact -- to make certain "Earth dogs" are dominating the planet as has been their responsibility since they arrived from Sirius thousands of years ago. What a shock it is when the pooch learns dogs have become human beings' pets!
Forced into an adoption of his own to escape the pound, Canid 3942 -- renamed Hubble by his 12-year-old "master," Owen Baker (Liam Aiken) -- decides to take Owen into his confidence: Owen is given the ability to hear Hubble (voiced by Matthew Broderick) and the other neighborhood dogs when they speak. Owen proves the perfect companion, being without a friend since his parents (Molly Shannon and Kevin Nealon) make a living by buying, renovating and selling homes, leaving Owen without one of his own.
Combining skillful CGI effects with well-trained animals, the production gets much comic mileage out of the dogs' banter, arguments and commentary on humankind. The neighborhood pack consists of a nervous and skittish Italian greyhound named Nelly (Brittany Murphy), a wise-cracking boxer called Wilson (Donald Faison), a jokester Bernese mountain dog dubbed Shep (Carl Reiner) and an immaculately coiffed standard poodle called Barbara Ann (Delta Burke). Hoffman, though, makes certain Owen and his new friend Connie (Brittany Moldowan) do not get upstaged by the dogs as the two-legged and four-legged actors share scenes well.
The script builds nicely to a slapstick climax, where the arrival of the Greater Dane (Vanessa Redgrave) from Sirius to inspect the troops coincides with the sale of the Baker family's latest house. At this juncture, the action disappoints as Hoffman pulls back from the rich possibilities for physical comedy. The doggie tricks seem rather ordinary, while the whole third act feels sentimental and contrived.
Mostly, Good Boy! exists for the middle section where youngsters and dogs speak the same language. These escapades, all taking place under the adults' radar, generate many sound laughs.
Tech credits involving the dogs are terrific. All others on this Vancouver-based production are solid, especially cinematographer James Glennon's use of tracking shots to keep up with the dogs as they race across the ground.
A Jim Henson Pictures production
Writer-director: John Hoffman
Screen story: Zeke Richardson, John Hoffman
Based on the radio play Dogs From Outer Space by: Zeke Richardon
Producers: Lisa Henson, Kristine Belson
Executive producer: Stephanie Allain
Director of photography: James Glennon
Production designer: Jerry Wanek
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Co-producer: Bill Bannerman
Costume designer: Antonia Bardon
Editor: Craig P. Herring
Mrs. Baker: Molly Shannon
Owen: Liam Aiken
Mr. Baker: Kevin Nealon
Connie: Brittany Moldowan
Hubble: Matthew Broderick
Barbara Ann: Delta Burke
Wilson: Donald Faison
Nelly: Brittany Murphy
Shep: Carl Reiner
Greater Dane: Vanessa Redgrave
Greater Dane's henchman: Cheech Marin
Running time -- 88 minutes
MPAA rating: PG