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"SEE SPOT RUN"
(2001) (David Arquette, Angus T. Jones) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A bumbling and goofy postal worker suddenly finds himself taking care of a neighbor's child as well as a canine FBI agent that some miffed mobsters have targeted for a hit.
PLOT:
Gordon Smith (DAVID ARQUETTE) is a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service who dreams about his neighbor, Stephanie (LESLIE BIBB), when not fending off dogs along his delivery route and hanging out with his friend and fellow postal worker, Benny Washington (ANTHONY ANDERSON). With Stephanie heading out of town on business and her babysitter being late, Gordon offers to watch her son, James (ANGUS T. JONES), until the sitter arrives. Stephanie reluctantly agrees, and Gordon soon finds himself with more than he bargained for when the sitter calls and states that she's sick and can't make it.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, FBI agent Murdoch (MICHAEL CLARKE DUNCAN) is reluctantly watching as his canine partner, Agent Eleven, is taken off into the witness protection program. It seems that mob figure Sonny Talia (PAUL SORVINO) is upset that the proficient pooch foiled his latest criminal effort and permanently injured him, and has thus sent out his two goons, Gino (JOE VITERELLI) and Arliss (STEVEN R. SCHIRRIPA), to whack the dog.

Unbeknownst to Murdoch, the agent handling the protection program works for Sonny, and Agent Eleven barely escapes a run in with his armed henchmen. Seeking a place to hide, the dog spots Gordon's mail truck and zips into it, much to the delight of James who's accompanying Gordon on his route. The dog-fearing mailman obviously isn't happy about this, but after James starts crying when he plans to take the pooch to a shelter, Gordon reluctantly takes both the boy and his new dog home.

From that point on, and as Stephanie runs into various delays while trying to get back home and Murdoch tries to find his lost canine partner, Gordon and James try to get Agent Eleven to play and act like a normal dog, all while being unaware of his background or the mobsters' desire to find and do in the dog.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
At one point or another in most everyone's lives, they've puzzled over and/or debated the old conundrum about whether the chicken or egg came first. Some may have also argued over the point of whether art imitates life or vice-versa, especially when it comes to violent acts, other behavior and fashion. On that point, however, few have probably questioned whether filmmakers deliver what their audiences inherently want to see, or if they instead shape such longings through their offerings.

While they probably try to do the former for adult audiences, it's a bit harder to tell when the target demographic is mostly under the age of ten. After all, most kids in that age bracket have yet to develop any true discernible tastes - thus the preponderant popularity of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches - and are easily open to be influenced by suggestion and/or manipulation.

Although that cinematic spin on the chicken and egg matter may never be solved, there's no denying that many kids seem to enjoy certain things in live-action films that are made with them in mind. First and foremost, obviously, is a child protagonist with whom they can identify and root for. Then there's often an animal of some sort (usually of the canine variety), various instances and styles of slapstick style pratfalls and violence (almost always involving the film's bumbling villains) and some sort of comedy related to certain bodily functions (and we all know what they are).

Thus, and at least from a kid's point of view, "See Spot Run" should be the perfect film for them. After all, there's a kid, a dog, villains subjected to slapstick mayhem and an extended sequence where an adult finds that dog poop is more slippery than a crate of banana peels. There's also humor geared for their parents or whatever adult chaperones may watch the film with them.

At our screening, kids laughed at the antics and many parents - at least the less discerning ones - seemed to enjoy the fact that their kids were entertained, and there's certainly something to be said for that. Yet, many kids - and some adults, for that matter - will find the most inane material entertaining, so does that mean this is a terrific effort, or have kids overlooked or been oblivious to the fact that it's a mediocre or even poorly made film?

Although one's appreciation of the picture will certainly depend on their age and tolerance for all of the previously mentioned material and more, and it does earn a few points for entertaining the little ones, it's really not that good of a film. Yes, there's a place and time for all sorts of films, and they don't all have to have lofty artistic goals, but would it hurt to try to elevate the proceedings to a bit higher level and not get down and wallow in the dirt and mud with the kiddies?

Beyond all of the lowest common denominator and slapstick/scatological material that stands in for anything remotely resembling creative or imaginative thought, the film isn't much more than a hyper-kinetic combination of "Big Daddy" and "K-9/Turner & Hooch" with a little bit of comedic mafia material thrown in for good measure.

I suppose there could be a smattering of some potential in such a combo and the basic plot as presented here, but director John Whitesell ("Calendar Girl" and many TV series) and screenwriters George Gallo ("Double Take," "Midnight Run") and Danny Baron & Christopher Faber (collectively marking their debut and all who work from a story by Gallo and Stuart Gibbs & Craig Titley) don't get too creative with it. That is, other than seeing how many times and ways in which they can humiliate the adults, all for the kids' entertainment.

Anyone who saw Adam Sandler in "Big Daddy" or Michael Keaton in "Mr. Mom" will immediately recognize the bumbling adult figure trying to cope with the child now under their care. Such material here not only lacks any resemblance of novelty, but it's also missing any sort of decent or clever setup and execution of such material.

Part of that also stems from the pairing of David Arquette ("3000 Miles to Graceland," "Never Been Kissed") and Angus T. Jones ("Simpatico") in the respective roles. Arquette, who clearly doesn't have much acting range, has run his bumbling idiot character type into the ground (although they do fit in better in a kids film than in one aimed at adults) and doesn't do anything particularly special with the role here.

While it's not fair to pick on or overly criticize young child actors for a variety of reasons, it's unlikely that Jones will bowl over anyone with his performance beyond family and friends. To make matters worse, the surrogate father/son chemistry between them is rather flat, as are the obligatory touchy feely scenes that come off as too contrived to be effective.

The film's biggest problem, however, is that for a pooch picture, the canine in question here isn't particularly interesting or entertaining in either looks or behavior. Granted, he's supposed to be the equivalent of a stoic FBI agent, but the fact that he doesn't do much in that role beyond jumping on some people and doesn't loosen up and play with the boy until late in the game robs the proceedings of the typical fun that it's supposed to have.

Instead, the filmmakers opt to go for the laughs via the poop and flaming zebra flatulence (yes, you read that right) as well as the antics and resultant mayhem inflicted on the three mobsters played by Paul Sorvino ("Bulworth," "Goodfellas"), Joe Viterelli ("Analyze This," "Eraser") and Steven R. Schirripa ("Detroit Rock City," "Casino"). While the kiddies will probably enjoy the slapstick style material, and the plot element of some mob guys trying to put a hit on a dog has some potential (although it's questionable in a kids film), it never really amounts to more than recycled bits from the "Home Alone" films.

Supporting performances are generally okay for a film such as this, with Michael Clarke Duncan ("The Whole Nine Yards," "Armageddon") progressively moving further and further away from his terrific, Oscar-nominated performance in "The Green Mile," while Leslie Bibb ("The Skulls," TV's "Popular") gets the unglamorous role of being subjected to various instances of being splattered by mud and the like, and accordingly acting miffed and/or hysterical about that.

These sorts of films are often hard to rate as they manage to entertain the little ones, yet aren't that well made from an artistic standpoint. Due to the former and taking into account that this is a juvenile version of the slapstick mayhem and inanity that's fueled films ranging from the Three Stooges to "Dumb and Dumber" - meaning it isn't meant to be held to high standards -- "See Spot Run" ends up with a rating of 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed February 17, 2001 / Posted March 2, 2001


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