Originally created 03/09/06

'The Shaggy Dog' loses charm in film's latest update



In the creative funk that has Disney updating almost anything it can find in its family-film vaults, it probably was inevitable the studio would end up sniffing around The Shaggy Dog again.

And because the studio previously struck gold transforming Tim Allen into jolly old fat guy Kriss Kringle in The Santa Clause flicks, why not mutate him into a goofy old sheepdog, too?

Although The Santa Clause and its sequel injected moments of clever comic charm into their one-note premise, Mr. Allen's The Shaggy Dog is a well-dispositioned but forgettable mutt without any new tricks.

The movie's sight gags are annoyingly monotonous, like the same staccato yelp of a dog incessantly barking a few houses down - an irritant, but not close enough or loud enough to drive you crazy.

The affable lure Mr. Allen has radiated in his holiday movies and on TV's Home Improvement is largely lacking here, while the tepid script completely defangs gifted co-stars Robert Downey Jr. as the bad guy, Kristin Davis as Mr. Allen's wife and Danny Glover as his boss.

Director Brian Robbins, a specialist in sports tales such as Varsity Blues and Hardball, loads up on repetitive jokes and slapstick - Mr. Allen rushing about on all fours, scratching maniacally at his hair or growling to show his displeasure.

It's particularly distressing to note that it took five credited screenwriters to come up with this flavorless story, which combines elements of Disney's original 1959 Shaggy Dog and the 1976 sequel, The Shaggy D.A.

Mr. Allen plays Dave Douglas, an assistant district attorney in the middle of a big case prosecuting a teacher accused of setting a fire at a corporate research lab where animals might be undergoing abuse.

A mysterious bearded collie that escapes from the lab ends up at the Douglas home, where wife Rebecca and their kids (Zena Grey and Spencer Breslin) find the pooch adorable.

But Dave ends up taking a bite on the hand from the dog. The results: Dave periodically morphs into man's best friend and back again to human form.

The gags are harmlessly predictable, Mr. Allen lapping at his coffee, sleeping at the foot of the bed stretched over his wife's legs and desperately trying to hold his suddenly elongated tongue inside his mouth.

Ms. Davis is as adorable to watch as she was on Sex and the City, but her character is a blandly standard wife fretting over hubby's workaholic ways.

Mr. Downey manages to wring some slight comic energy out of a cookie-cutter villain's role as a conniving exec at the research lab who's trying to recover the escaped dog.

Mr. Glover is relegated to an empty-suit presence as the district attorney, while Philip Baker Hall as Mr. Downey's boss and Jane Curtin as a trial judge barely register, their parts are so shallow and fleeting.

It all comes around to a positive message of family. But shaggy-dog stories - especially one called The Shaggy Dog - should be a lot more furry fun than Mr. Allen and his pack have managed.

'The Shaggy Dog'

Rating: PG for some mild rude humor

Running time: 98 minutes

The verdict: * * out of * * * *