August 9, 2007

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Underdog (PG)
Jason Lee lends his good-natured voice to the flying, super-strength-having titular hero of Underdog, a movie more or less based on the 1960s TV show.

Underdog (Lee) is a police dog when we first meet him — unable to distinguish a bomb from a ham and prone to sneezing. He quits “the force” and heads out into the world, where he’s almost immediately picked up by Cad (Patrick Warburton), security guard at a science lab and henchman to the lab’s mad scientist Dr. Simon Barsinister (Peter Dinklage). Barsinister performs experiments on dogs during the after hours and, when his attempt to inject Underdog with wacky DNA goes awry, our hero gets his superpowers. Underdog takes off and runs into good-guy security guard Dan Unger (James Belushi), or rather runs into his car, leaving a dog-sized dent. Underdog, who Dan calls Shoeshine, attempts to hide his powers from Dan in hopes of making the Unger house his home. But Jack (Alex Neuberger), Dan’s surly teenage son, catches Underdog talking and eventually figures out the full extent of his new pet’s powers. After Underdog inadvertently saves a girl Jack likes (and more importantly to Underdog, her cute poodle) from muggers, Jack urges Underdog to don cape and “U”-bearing sweater to officially make a career out of fighting crime.

But, not so fast — Dr. Barsinister knows that Underdog is the dog his experiments had a hand in creating and he’s eager to get his paws on the pooch to figure out the secret to making more superdogs.

Underdog is no Spider-Man 2 but the movie makes the most of what it has. James Belushi’s sitcomy acting style meshes well with the semi-animated dog and the cartoony excesses of the highly entertaining Warburton and Dinklage (Dinklage was the best thing about the short-lived Threshold and is good in just about everything he’s in). Lee is probably the most perfect voice that this confidence-needing, good-hearted mutt could find, not too goofy nor too much a star in his own right. Underdog has moments of familial sweetness between Dan and Jack but doesn’t let that get in the way of the comedy or the action hijinks. Though not nearly as blockbustery in execution, Underdog is probably more enjoyable than either of the Fantastic Four movies and, as superhero movies go, not a bad one to sit through with the kids. B-

Rated PG for crude humor, mild language and action. Directed by Frederik Du Chau and written by Adam Rifkin, Joe Piscatella and Craig A. Williams (from the TV show by W. Watts Biggers), Underdog is an hour and 24 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Buena Vista Pictures.