2003's "Freaky Friday
" got everything right as a modern, smart and warmly funny update of the 1976 Disney film, actually surpassing the quality of its source material in the process. Alas, lightning has not struck twice for "The Shaggy Dog." Although not closely familiar with the 1959 same-titled original and 1976's "The Shaggy D.A.," one can only assume that they had to be a step up from this 2006 remake. "The Shaggy Dog" is alternately dopey and creepy, a would-be comedy of the dimmest and most disposable order that is more likely to induce eye rolls and snores than uproarious laughter. In other words, it lives up to just about every Tim Allen vehicle in memory.
Dave Douglas (Tim Allen) is an overworked Los Angeles assistant district attorney who spends more time in the courtroom than he does with his familywife Rebecca (Kristin Davis), teenage daughter Carly (Zena Grey) and 12-year-old son Josh (Spencer Breslin). Dave's latest case has him taking the opposing side against Carly's high school teacher Justin Forrester (Joshua Leonard), who is on trial for alleged arson and breaking into a genetics company headquarters. In actuality, the corporation, headed by megalomaniac scientist Dr. Kozak (Robert Downey Jr.), has secretly begun genetically altering animals in a bid to find a serum for the fountain of youth.
When protester Carly and boyfriend Trey (Shawn Pyfrom) save an infected woolly sheepdog they name Shaggy from the company's captivity and take it home, it promptly bites Dave on the hand. Dave suddenly begins to take on habits and mannerisms of man's best friend before eventually turning into a full-blown sheepdog himself. As he tries to get to the bottom of Dr. Kozak's evil plans, Dave must try to find a way to convince his family of his identity. In the process, he discovers just how neglectful he has been to the people he loves the most.
Amateurishly directed by Brian Robbins (2004's "The Perfect Score
"), "The Shaggy Dog" is first and foremost a perplexing motion picture that took five whole screenwritersCormac Wibberley and Marianne Wibberley (2004's "National Treasure
"), Geoff Rodkey (2003's "Daddy Day Care
"), and Jack Amiel and Michael Begler (2004's "Raising Helen
")to concoct a script filled to the gills with murky, overcomplicated storytelling, numerous glaring plot holes, and a stream of lame gags. As Dave begins incessantly scratching himself, growling in the courtroom much to the chagrin of Judge Claire Whittaker (Jane Curtin), and even lifting his leg at urinals, the comedic possibilities wage on the side of obviousness. This further includes the derivative, stomach-churning use of Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out" and an out-of-place nod to Tim Allen's "Toy Story" character of Buzz Lightyear. Truth be told, there isn't a genuine laugh generated during the entire film.
The actors deserve infinitely better than what they are given herewith one major exception. Tim Allen (2004's "Christmas with the Kranks
") was an amiable fit for TV's "Home Improvement," but his movie rolesalmost all in the family genre and almost all of the them blandare simply generic variations of the very same character. In dealing with his new offbeat canine tendencies, Allen appears more threatening than goofy, coming off as someone who would be more at home in a horror film (think 1994's "Wolf") than a lighthearted comedy. The same observation applies for Robert Downey Jr. (2005's "Good Night, and Good Luck.
"), who doesn't realize he is in a film targeted at children; his antagonist of Dr. Kozak isn't just a bad guy, but evil through and through, and a late scene in which he and Dave animalistically face off in court strikes a dark tone that is disastrously wrong for the material.
As the rest of the Douglas clan, Kristin Davis (2005's "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D
"), Zena Grey (2004's "In Good Company
") and Spencer Breslin (2003's "The Cat in the Hat
") put on game facesquite a feat for having little to do. Davis, who at 41 still looks 28 and is too beautiful and vivacious to start getting stuck in thankless mom roles, is involved in one of the film's only gentle and sweet moments: believing that she has been stood up for her anniversary, a saddened Rebecca spots Shaggy (actually her husband in dog form) outside the restaurant with a bouquet of roses in his mouth.
Meanwhile, there's a subplot that takes up a lot of screentime in which Breslin's Josh, who may or may not be struggling with his sexuality (such a topic could never be openly discussed in a Disney flick), is torn between making his father proud by playing football and trying out for his school's production of "Grease." In the right hands, this could have been handled in a touching, truthful fashion, but instead reaches an abrupt and pat conclusion. As for whether Josh gets a part in "Grease" or even goes to the audition, it's thrown to the wayside and not mentioned again.
Rambling, dull and supremely ill-advised, "The Shaggy Dog" ranks as one of Disney's weakest theatrical releases in years. A film that goes through the motions and then ends with hardly any of the story threads being dealt with or solvedanother subplot involving a slumming Philip Baker Hall (2005's "The Amityville Horror
") is totally forgotten about and rendered uselessthere is a sinking feeling that no attempt was even made to make a quality motion picture. Director Brian Robbins, along with the studio, apparently thought that the very premise of Tim Allen as a dog would be box office gold (sadly, it just might). Thus, it seems that no further work was done in developing "The Shaggy Dog" beyond that one idea, nor was any thought put into conceiving of a coherent plot or any detectable clever comedic touches. Kids deserve better. Adult viewers deserve better. Even Shaggy deserves better. Woof, indeed.