March 16, 2006

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The Shaggy Dog (PG)
reviewed by Amy Diaz

We all learn a lesson about appreciating our families and Tim Allen and Kristin Davis learn a lesson about career decline after popular sitcoms in the unfortunate remake The Shaggy Dog.

Back in the day (1959) The Shaggy Dog featured a canine-loathing mailman dad (Fred MacMurty) whose son (Toby Kirk) changed into a dog because of a cursed ring from the Borgias and, as a dog, tried to win favor with his hot new French neighbor and save the country from Soviet (or something) evil planned by the hot neighbor’s father and his friends. Though equal in plot weirdness to this modern remake, the original had much more in the way of charm and hilarity. Plus, an absent dad and some biomedical shenanigans aren’t nearly as cool, adventurewise, as spies and evil Italian jewelry.

Also, evil jewelry makes at least as much sense as this film’s explanation for doggy magic, namely the power of meditation. Turns out the shaggy star is Tibetan and has learned the secret to longevity through Buddhist reflection (and, of course, via a genetic defect that reverses the one human year = seven dog years equation). He is dognapped and brought to an American lab by an evil pharmaceutical company looking to cash in on the secret.

Through a lot of plot machinations too stupid to explain, Dave Douglas (Allen), a prominent lawyer on the road to becoming L.A.’s district attorney, is bitten by this dog, whose tail-wagging genes have been made viral. Dave catches a case of the shaggies and finds himself scratching behind his ear, growling in court and feeling an irresistible urge to chase Frisbees and cats. When he finally turns into a dog, he finds that son Josh (Spencer Breslin) and daughter Carly (Zena Grey) like him more as a dog and don’t necessarily mind the absence of their dad, who wasn’t so big on the listening or the participating. Only their mom Rebecca (Davis) cares that Dave’s not just emotionally absent this time and, when he does come home, it’s often naked and full of some wild tale of chasing cats and dodging animal control. How can Dave stop his canine changes? Well, the movie doesn’t address that but perhaps bringing down Dr. Kozak (Robert Downey Jr.), the scientist who created the metamorphosizing virus, will save the world from enduring medical treatments that give them long lives but make them live parts of those lives on four paws instead of two feet.

The Shaggy Dog contains a few good sight gags, including a laboratory full of animals that have a long life to look forward to but have also acquired doggie parts (a frog with a dog’s head; a snake with a furry tale). And I guess watching Downey twitch his way through the part of a mad scientist is sort of a sight gag, though it’s a little more meta, less haha-funny and more sad-funny.

Should you manage to dodge the giant anvils about The Importance of Family, you might then be slapped with the limp wet noodle that is the rest of this tale. Davis furrows her brows and tilts her head in concern; the kids make variations of that teenage groan-sigh that is really just another way of expressing the “whatever” sentiment; the villains snarl, but sadly without feeling. The whole movie seems to have been muted so we won’t miss the central Message. Odd that a movie which should appeal to children spends so much time lecturing to adults. D


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