Lost and alone on the streets of a small Mississippi town, Benji struggles to save his mom from a backyard puppy mill, avoiding two dopey dogcatchers and an unwanted sidekick.Lost and alone on the streets of a small Mississippi town, Benji struggles to save his mom from a backyard puppy mill, avoiding two dopey dogcatchers and an unwanted sidekick.Lost and alone on the streets of a small Mississippi town, Benji struggles to save his mom from a backyard puppy mill, avoiding two dopey dogcatchers and an unwanted sidekick.
Have you ever gone to movie that was geared for kids and after watching it you had that sick feeling in your stomach. Sure on the surface it seemed okay. But underneath, its actual message is dark and brooding. Well, here it is BENJI: OFF THE LEASH, a film about a bunch of adorable animals that is actually about animal abuse and a dysfunctional family about to collapse.
BENJI: OFF THE LEASH tells the story of two dogs neither of which is named Benji, a smart-aleck boy named Colby, his sociopathic father, his mentally withdrawn mother, a nutty old guy who talks to himself and dogs to a degree that seems unhealthy, and two bumbling dog catchers with hearts of gold. It's a lot of people and most of them are not connected.
You see Colby is a boy whose family is on the verge of collapse. His Dad is emotionally abusive. His mother just wants Colby to stop aggravating Dad. It seems Dad, who drinks (but you'd never know it cause in the course of the movie he only drinks two beers, even though the garbage can is full of them) beat his wife and Colby, and yet they still live there. Dad's also a rare dog breeder.
When Colby steels one of the rare dogs to save her, she mates with a mutt, and then give birth to'Puppy.' When Puppy's mother gets sick Puppy tries to rescue her from Colby's dad with the help of Lizard-Tongue, another stray in the neighborhood. Let the adorable adventures of Puppy and Lizard-Tongue commence.
I'll be the first to admit I'm not really the right person to review a film like this. But I did enjoy BENJI: THE HUNTED when I was a little boy. I still think it's one of the better animal films ever made. HUNTED's charm was the fact that BENJI, was a real dog. He didn't talk like the other adorable animals that've graced the silver screen and yet he had the same emotional attachment to his young audience.
In fact the strongest moments of OFF THE LEASH are the moments when the dogs are relating to each other. These moments feel masterful as the camera photographs these animals with some emotion and a lot of humanity.
Director (also writer, producer, and actor) Joe Camp loves animals. In fact every dog that has ever portrayed Benji has been a stray, rescued from a local area animal shelter. It's amazing that these dogs, many of which were abused or abandoned can be rescued and trained to work like pros. The film is at it best when he allows the camera to linger on the dogs and times barks so that we get a sense that they are talking. Those moments feel like old Silent movies. Camp actually allows the picture to tell the story, not dialogue. He also utilizes a nice musical soundtrack that helps move the action along and is about 80 percent of the time not distracting.
Where the movie goes way wrong is the human aspect. Every single character is badly drawn. They spout inane dialogue and are emotional retards. The very first thing Colby's dad does is throw Puppy across the room. (If you have an aversion to animal cruelty in any form I'd stay away from the film). So of course he's a jerk from minute one. He's so Jerky it's amazing that he's married and has a child. Honestly, the guy doesn't talk to anyone. He yells at people, a lot.
His character is so evil that it puts this weird, eerie darkness over the film. It's a strange portrait of a dysfunctional family. But the film still tries to play to the young crowd so on the surface there is this odd comedic tone. I think it's because the film human characters are stuck in a screenplay that is has very little subtlety. Making the characters feel unnatural and silly, instead of thoughtful and human. The film is being sold as a film about two adorable stray dogs trying to rescue their mother from the clutches of an evil dog breeder. But the film is really about how child abuse leads to animal abuse and will leave the adults in the room a real feeling of dread inside. To try and cover up this feeling, two stupid Dog Catchers and a guy, who looks like Santa Clause and talks like an inspirational calendar or greeting card are brought in the lighten things up. But they just seem to complicate the films narrative.
Will the film play to its intended audience? No, the worst part of this film is that it's boring. There is no life or color where the humans are concerned and they fill up most of this movie's 90 minute running time. Kids may watch it for a little while, maybe even be enchanted by the Dogs, but about 30 minutes in they'll be screaming to go home. My suggestion to the BENJI production team: Why not a series of shorts for the Disney channel or something, involving the dogs only? Kids will love it and you can stay away from writing stupid screenplay's involving stupid people.
BENJI: OFF THE LEASH was obviously made with lots of love and concern for abused and abandoned dogs all over the country. It wears its message right out in the open. It's just a shame the movie fails to charm or even entertain.
** out of 5
- Aug 14, 2004