The Shaggy Dog Review
By Shawn McKenzie 03/10/2006
After 2005 produced more bad family comedies than good ones, it’s good to see Tim Allen back again to go “to infinity and beyond” in the Disney remake The Shaggy Dog.
Dave Douglas (Allen) is the deputy district attorney who’s being groomed to replace his boss, Ken Hollister (Danny Glover; he must be getting “too old for this s**t.) The case he is now prosecuting involves an arson case against a high school social studies teacher named Justin Forrester (Joshua Leonard), who torched an animal testing lab at pharmaceutical conglomerate Grant & Strictland. Since he is so busy with his career, he often neglects his wife, Rebecca (Kristin Davis)…who he has been promising to take her to Oahu for years…or their kids, Josh (Spencer Breslin) and Carly (Zena Grey.) Josh really wants to be in the school production of Grease, but Dave has somehow convinced him to be on the football team instead (where he is terrible at it.) Josh has come up with a plan with his friend Tracy (Jordyn Michelle Colemon) to quit football and audition for the play. He plans on doing poorly in school so that he will be suspended from the team, and then he will bring his grades up after he gets the part. Carly is a teen animal activist along with her boyfriend Trey (Shawn Pyfrom) and her friend Janey (Jeanette Brox.) They are protesting Forrester’s arrest as well as Grant & Strictland itself, whom they suspect are doing cruel experiments on animals. The corporation is…in fact…doing those experiments, and lead scientist Dr. Bill Kozak (Robert Downey Jr.) and his lab technicians Larry (Jarrad Paul) and Gwen (Bess Wohl) are running them. Their main experiment is trying to find a serum that will extend a person’s lifespan. Lance Strictland (Philip Baker Hall) is funding the genetic research in the hope that it will help extend his life (his health is deteriorating.) Kozak thinks he’s found it in a 300-year-old bearded collie (the doggie actor is named Coal) from Tibet. The theory is that…while most dogs live one year for every seven human years…this dog has lived seven years for every one human year, which is why he could conceivably live for 700 years. Kozak sends an extraction team to Tibet to kidnap the dog and do experiments on his blood. Their previous experiments have resulted in some mutant hybrids of various species…like a half bulldog/frog, a cobra with a dog tail, and an ape and some rats that bark. During a protest rally in front of Grant & Strictland, Carly and Trey breaks into the lab and steals the dog. Since the dog isn’t a freak, there is no way to prove that the dog was ever in the lab, but Carly takes him home anyway and names him Shaggy. Dave doesn’t want a dog in the family…because he isn’t fond of dogs in general. He has to put up with his obnoxious neighbor Baxter (Craig Kilborn) and Baxter’s ugly dog Attila going to the bathroom on Dave’s flowers, so he certainly isn’t happy to see Shaggy. The dog returns the love by biting Dave on the hand, which injects Shaggy’s DNA into him. Soon after, Dave starts behaving more dog-like, such as scratching himself behind his ear, eating his cereal with his mouth only, shaking himself dry after a shower, and involuntarily chasing sticks. When it starts affecting his performance in court, Judge Claire Whittaker (Jane Curtin), who’s presiding over his case against Forrester, is not pleased. Eventually, Dave turns into a bearded collie completely, and his family mistakes him for Shaggy. The only way that he can turn back is to go to sleep and wake up in human form. While in dog form, Dave gets an insight into the problems going on with his family, and he vows to be a better husband and father…if only he can figure out how to reverse this dog-transformation condition.
Director Brian Robbins has been more proficient in the producing area than his other areas (i.e. directing and acting…I’ll always remember him as the greaser genius Eric from ABC’s “Head of the Class”), but paired with Allen, he does a good job. While I’m sick of hearing the Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out” for the millionth time, he gets a lot of mileage out of his star. The movie is more of a remake of the 1976 sequel, The Shaggy D.A., than of the 1959 original, because the original showed a teenager (Tommy Kirk) turning into a dog, and the sequel showed a lawyer (Dean Jones) turning into a dog.
I’ve noticed that Allen has the chops to be very funny in even the most idiotic family comedies (though some of my fellow critics have told me that he was awful in Christmas with the Kranks…a movie I have yet to see.) He has a lot of fun pretending to be a dog, and it solicited many laughs from the audience (and from me.)
The supporting cast was overlooked though, with the exception of Downey Jr. The former “Ally McBeal” cast member threatened to steal the show with his over-the-top evil genius character…and he also got to show off his doggie skills as well (I won’t tell you how though.) Davis is worrying me with her recent career choices. She has been in two back-to-back family comedies…this one and last year’s headache-inducing flop The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D…since she left the HBO hit “Sex and the City.” I don’t know what’s on her plate next, but I hope that it won’t be another loving, supportive wife role in another family comedy. This is Breslin’s second project with Allen (after 2002’s The Santa Clause 2.) He has two more projects with Allen this year alone…a family superhero comedy in August called Zoom, and the third Santa Clause movie in November. Why does Allen keep working with this kid? To his credit, Breslin isn’t nearly as annoying here than he has been in the past. Maybe maturity has improved his acting skills. Grey hasn’t been in a lot of things yet, but if this movie proves to be a hit, she might get higher profile roles, because she has decent acting chops playing the sullen teenager part.
Stan Winston’s Studios did a great job creating the CGI mutant hybrids. The bulldog/frog was freaky, and the cobra managed to be adorable instead of creepy.
I’m hoping that 2006 will be a better year for family comedies, and I wish that Disney would produce more new quality family comedies instead of remaking their previous hits of the last 60 years, but The Shaggy Dog is an entertaining film to introduce this story to a new generation of family moviegoers. While I wish that the writers (there are five of them) hadn’t made that throwaway Toy Story joke (yes…Allen actually says “to infinity and beyond” at one point), they were able to effectively use the former “Home Improvement” star to comedic effect. So…this is not a “dog” of a movie (I couldn’t help the pun.)
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