MOVIE REVIEW: This dog don't hunt

08/04/2007 12:47 PM

08/06/2007 9:49 PM

It still has a place in that darned Thanksgiving parade of balloons. But maybe you have to be a certain age and have a memory of a middling but endlessly re-run TV cartoon from the `60s to get a thrill from its theme song.

"When in this world the headlines read

"Of those whose hearts are filled with greed

"And rob and steal from those in need.

"To right this wrong with blinding speed goes ... Underdog"

It wasn't much - under-plotted, under-animated, under-acted (by Wally Cox).

But at least it rhymed.

"There's no need to fear, Uuuunnn-derdog is here!"

And darned if Disney didn't screw it up. "Underdog" is the little summer movie that can't.

Brought to the screen as a live-action with (semi-animated) talking critters by the director of "Racing Stripes," and voice-acted by Jason Lee, who sounds embarrassed there aren't better jokes, this sleeping dog just lies there, waiting for something fun to happen.

Not much does.

The story - a beagle police dog washout is snatched by a mad scientist who tries to create a superdog, and by accident, does. The dog escapes, finds an owner (James Belushi, who knows a dog when he acts in one). And the new guy, who names the dog "Shoeshine" (don't ask) has a kid who could use a pooch.

Both boy (Alex Neuberger) and beagle discover the canine's super-powers. He can hear a cry for help from miles away, hurtle through walls, overpower man or beast, leap fire hydrants in a single bound. And speak.

"Bad dog! Stop talking!"

The beagle and the boy make time with a cute girl and her pampered spaniel, Polly Purebred (Amy Adams voices her). Until, that is, "the cry goes up from far and near for Unnnnn-derdog." Shoeshine dons cape and sweater, and saves the day.

Soon, Capital City's crime is under control (actually, they shot this in a digitally augmented Providence, R.I.). And little old Underdog is responsible.

The spark of life in this dog-yawn comes from mad scientist Simon Bar Sinister (Peter Dinklage), all bug-eyes under a forehead that screams "Evil Genius," and his henchman, played in a blond dye job by Patrick Warburton. The lines aren't funny, but they are.

If the talking dog's attempts at rhymes, at curb-your-dog jokes, what dogs-have-been-known-to-eat gags and the like had been half as funny as their genius-doofus banter, this might have risen to mediocrity.

As it is, it's a harmless bore. No, it wasn't the best TV `toon. But some parents will remember it fondly, especially that theme song.

The film beats it to death. There must be six versions on the soundtrack.

There's a taste of the old `toon in the opening credits as the current Underdog narrates that he remembers the old cartoon. He must've caught it on the new DVD boxed set. As should we all.

1 star (out of 5)

Cast: The voices of Jason Lee and Amy Adams, with Peter Dinklage, James Belushi, Patrick Warburton.

Director: Frederik du Chau

Running time: 1 hour 24 minutes

Industry rating: PG for rude humor, mild language and action.

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