Underdog (2007) / Action-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for rude humor, mild language and violence
Running time: 84 min.
Cast: Jason Lee (voice), Alex Neuberger, Peter DInklage, James Belushi, Patrick Warburton, Taylor Momsen, Amy Adams (voice), Brad Garrett (voice), Jay Leno (cameo)
Director: Frederik Du Chau
Screenplay: Adam Rifkin, Joe Piscatella, Craig A. Williams
Review published August 10, 2007
There is great need to fear. Underdog, the movie, is here!
Looking at the finished product, one can only wonder if the makers of this extremely loose updating of the 1960s animated television character have ever seen an episode of "Underdog". Outside of the fact that it features a dog caped superhero, he says some silly rhymes, and the character names are similar, it is a wholly different breed altogether. The problems with Underdog are multitudinous, with the most glaring example being the decision to make this a live-action film instead of animated, whether 2D or 3D. Actually, given that the fan base for "Underdog" is relatively small and dwindling as time goes by, perhaps it shouldn't have been made at all. Sometimes it is best to let sleeping dogs lie.
In the film, a beagle (voiced by Jason Lee, Monster House) is found by a crazy scientist named Simon (Dinklage, Find Me Guilty), who has been using stray animals for experiments to change their genetic make-up in an effort to perfect his formula for gaining great strength and powers. This beagle escapes the scientist's evil clutches, but not before immersing himself with a batch of the powerful liquid formula, which changes his genetic composition to give him the equivalent of major superhero powers that allow him great strength, keen senses, and the ability to fly.
After escaping, the dog is found by a security guard (Belushi, The Wild), who takes the pooch home in the hope of finding a way to bond with his emotionally-confused son, Jack (Neuberger, Running Scared). The dog is named "Shoeshine", and after it is discovered that he has powers to speak to Jack, the boy warms up to the dog and helps him train to use his powers to fight crime. However, the mad Simon is still on the loose, out to dog-nap Shoeshine to extract his DNA and use it for his own diabolical purposes to rule Capitol City and terrorize it for his own advancement.
From the first moment you see the picture of Underdog on the movie poster, you know it's going to be full of wrongheaded decision-making on every conceptual level. Seeing a real-life dog speaking and donning a cape just isn't funny in itself, and, if anything, impedes the comic value altogether. We like dogs, and are so used to seeing them as loveable creatures that when the maniacal Simon rounds them up to use in hideous lab experiments, it's rather distastefully executed from a family film standpoint. It's also a dumb idea to give the dog characters actual human-like lip-movements when they talk to one another, which is also more disturbing than funny when you actually see them emote.
Other than the live-action problems, another major blunder comes from injecting the characters of the TV show into a real-world environment. From a scientific standpoint, or even a common sense standpoint, the injection of such a fantastic premise just doesn't stand up when trying to explain the film logically. While it's already difficult to believe that spilling liquid on a dog's coat could alter the DNA of said dog, it's a bigger stretch that this DNA would allow the dog to fly. Granted, super-strength and ultra-senses are difficult enough to suspend disbelief in, but every known creature that flies on this planet does so because of their physical structure, and not because they have some sort of "flying" gene in their DNA.
The creators of this film spend so much time ignoring the source television material that it almost makes you wish they would have completely removed all traces, rather than half-heartedly try to shoehorn in some of the show's more unique aspects. Underdog likes to rhyme his little battle-cries and mottos to the public on the show, but it makes absolutely no sense as to why the dog would need to do so here, especially when he is supposed to be so new to the English language (dogs just happen to understand human talk for no known reason), although they do speak it to each other when humans aren't around. I understood (kinda) the whole secret identity thing in the cartoon, as Underdog worked during non-crimefighting time as Shoeshine Boy, but in this film, he's just a pet beagle, like any other, and of no particular significance.
Some of you probably read my review and wonder why someone would criticize a film on a level that no kid would ever really think to. The kids will love it right? They love anything! I wonder what this says about our society when adults decide to put half-assed efforts into whatever they make to entertain the youth because they think that it's just for kids anyway. It shouldn't surprise anyone as to why civilization appears to be getting dumber and fatter, when we give our young ones the worst foods to eat and the crappiest movies to watch. During our formative years, we pretty much learn all of the basic things that we carry with us the rest of our lives. If we only feast on candy, corn dogs and fish sticks, we will end up constantly malnourished and have chronic health problems the rest of our days. If you see entertainment as doubling as "food for thought", shoveling such studio botch-jobs like Underdog down our kids throats is liable to produce widespread famine of the mind the world has never known before.
So parents, feel free continue to let your kids watch whatever you put in front of them, eat whatever they want, and then wonder why little Johnny is falling behind in life. And hey, Underdog and a chili dog makes for a perfect combination, dont they? Underdog doesn't resemble the TV show so much as it does the staple Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade float -- a big, bloated, substance-less synthetic spectacle crafted solely to dazzle the easily-entertained crowds for a moment before being promptly forgotten by the next example.
©2007 Vince Leo