[Screen It]

(2003) (Liam Aiken, voice of Matthew Broderick) (PG)

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Comedy: After accidentally receiving the power to understand dogs, a boy discovers that his newly adopted pooch is really an interplanetary scout who's been sent to Earth to see why dogs here have yet to take over.
With his parents (MOLLY SHANNON & (KEVIN NEALON) perpetually buying, renovating and then selling house after house, young Owen (LIAM AIKEN) has little time to make lasting friends. Having run a successful dog-walking business for the neighbors, he's raised enough money to get his own dog that he hopes truly will be man's, or at least his best friend.

He goes to the pound, picks up a mutt with a bad attitude, and names him Hubble (voice of MATTHEW BRODERICK). The pooch doesn't seem to want to do what Owen wants and the boy soon learns why. It turns out that Hubble is really Candid 3942 who's been sent by The Greater Dane (voice of VANESSA REDGRAVE) of the planet Sirious to discover why after thousands of years, dogs still have not taken over the planet.

To his shock, Hubble discovers that dogs are the human's pets. To make matters worse, Owen is accidentally endowed with the ability to understand him and the rest of the dogs. They include the pampered poodle Barbara Ann (voice of DELTA BURKE), cool boxer Wilson (voice of DONALD FAISON), nervous Italian greyhound Nellie (voice of BRITTANY MURPHY) and gassy Bernese mountain dog Shep (voice of CARL REINER).

Things get worse when Hubble learns that the Greater Dane is headed for Earth to do her own inspection. Knowing that if things don't look right all dogs on Earth will be recalled to Sirius, he and Owen then set out to whip the other dogs into shape so that they can pass muster.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Considering the immense demographic market, their insatiable appetite for offerings targeted at them, and frankly, the need for such product, I'm always surprised that there aren't more kid-related films released in theaters. After all, the decidedly kid-friendly and G-rated "Finding Nemo" will be among the highest, if not the top grosser of 2003.

Granted, many studio heads think teenagers and twenty-somethings are the most lucrative demographic, and there is the video market where kid films often rule. Whatever the reasons or arguments, you have to applaud when the studios get around to releasing kid-friendly fare, especially in the less lucrative non-summer or holiday periods.

That's why it's all the more disappointing when such offerings are poorly made ones like "Good Boy!" I appreciate the effort to make a generally wholesome film targeted at young kids and their tastes in material. I also understand that such viewers generally don't care too much about artistic efforts as long as there are kids, animals and some sort of scatological material on hand.

But why oh why can't more live-action efforts be as imaginative, engaging, fun and well-made as "Nemo" and its Pixar brethren? Is there some rule that states that live-actions films must be derivative, flat, boring and so clumsily made that they'll try the patience of parents and childless adults alike?

If so, writer/director John Hoffman (making his debut) obviously signed on the dotted line of such a contract. Part "Dr. Dolittle," part "Cats & Dogs" and a great deal of "E.T.," this effort has nary an original bone in its cinematic body. Nor does it do much of anything clever with the borrowed, re-treaded and/or stolen material. If not for the name cast members who signed on to do the vocal work, this is the sort of effort that usually would have headed to the kids section of the straight to video market.

Rather than a cute hobgoblin arriving on Earth and befriending a young boy, we have a dog - blandly voiced by Matthew Broderick ("You Can Count on Me," "Inspector Gadget") - who arrives from another planet to check up on how dogs have done in taking over.

By accident, the boy's enabled to understand dog-talk - presented in English, of course - and he and the dogs he walks everyday then scramble to prepare for the arrival of their leader, "The Greater Dane." That play on words is about as clever as the effort gets, and the results are far from the classic and moving "E.T." or even the fun action and adventure of "Lilo & Stitch."

Nor is it as imaginative in showing the "real" world of animals as was the case in "Cats & Dogs." In addition, despite the presence of Delta Burke ("What Women Want," TV's "Designing Women"), Donald Faison ("Uptown Girls," "Big Fat Liar"), Brittany Murphy ("Uptown Girls," "Just Married"), Carl Reiner ("Ocean's Eleven," "Slums of Beverly Hills") and Vanessa Redgrave ("The Pledge," "Cradle Will Rock") voicing the various pooches, little of that's as clever or fun as in those Eddie Murphy "Dolittle" films.

Beyond a few briefly amusing stunts (such as a dog doing an exaggerated and melodramatic "play dead" routine), even the physical dog bits are a letdown, although some are certain to entertain younger, less discerning viewers.

As far as the humans go, Liam Aiken ("Road to Perdition," "Stepmom") is generally fine as the Dolittle-ized boy, but he lacks the charm or acting chomps of Henry Thomas in "E.T." Molly Shannon ("My Boss's Daughter," "The Santa Clause 2") and Kevin Nealon ("Daddy Day Care," "Anger Management") are inexplicably cast as his parents who are constantly buying, renovating and selling one house after another.

Neither are funny (not that their material is meant to be) and their subplot along with some "deeper" dramatic moments don't work. They also had our target audience getting mighty restless. Kids were running up and down the aisles and a little girl behind me asked, "Is it over yet?" You might feel inclined to inquire about the same.

While I appreciate the effort to provide a theatrical product for the little ones, I only wish the offering were better for both them and the adults in tow. Feeling awfully long (at just 80 some minutes), often boring and certainly not doggone entertaining enough with its recycled material, "Good Boy!" isn't bad enough to warrant cinematic euthanasia, but certainly should be neutered before we suddenly have "Good Boy 2" on our hands. The film rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed October 4, 2003 / Posted October 10, 2003

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