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Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Shaggy Dog

I know this is not going to be a popular admission, but I have to tell the truth here. I don’t like Tim Allen. I don’t hate him, but he just has never *clicked* with me when it comes to his brand of humor so I was not looking forward to seeing his latest Disney release, The Shaggy Dog.

I put off going to the Essex Cinemas to see The Shaggy Dog for more than a week, until I had seen every other film playing there and it was the last option available. Jason, who is the Concession King in the afternoons assured me “it was not that bad” and bolstered my will to make it through two hours of Allen and his usual silly faces and grunting noises.

Well, was I surprised! With a script and good direction by former actor and veteran producer/director Brian Robbins Tim seemed modulated in a way he never did on his old television show Home Improvement. Here, as Assistant District Attorney Dave Douglas he is a buttoned-down workaholic whose life is absorbed by a high-profile case involving a young man who set fire to a company that used animals for scientific experiments. Dave, unfortunately, is prosecuting the case and is vehement in his belief that Strickland-Grant would never do anything unethical. Why is never explained, but Dave has great loyalty to the company, almost as much as his teenage daughter Carla (Zena Grey, In Good
Company) has to the alleged arsonist, who also happens to be her social studies teacher.

Everything changes when Dave is accidentally bitten by a Sheep Dog that has escaped from the
lab. Within hours Dave begins to exhibit strange behavior, from scratching in odd places to chasing after a neighbor’s dog while screaming “MyYardMyYardMyYardMyYard” over and over. His behavior extends into the courtroom where he has the judge (Jane Curtain, 3rd Rock From the Sun; Kate and Allie) outraged and perplexed. Worse yet, his boss, played by Danny Glover (Saw; The Color Purple) is witness to Dave’s antics just as he is preparing to retire and appoint Dave as his successor. Now he’s none too sure about whether Dave is the right man for the job.

Dave’s wife, Rebecca, played by post-Sex and the City alum Kristen Davis, is at her wit’s end with her neglectful husband, and things only get worse when he suddenly disappears for hours and is a no-show at their anniversary dinner. Unfortunately, by this time, Dave has transformed completely into a Sheep Dog himself and we are given the opportunity to hear Allen’s voice in thought as he tries desperately to get his family to recognize him and realize that the scientists at Strickland are, indeed, up to no good.

The best part of the movie for me was the return of Robert Downey Jr. as the villainous Dr. Kozak.
Downey, who has never met an illegal substance he didn’t like, is a wonderful actor and it is almost painful to see that he has gone from his Academy Award winning performance as Chaplin to basically playing a 3D cartoon character, but, hey!, he does it well, with giggles, and way too much enthusiasm for the idea of dissecting poor canine Dave.

The “doggy bits” are executed well and the story, though predictable, is entertaining and moves along at a break-neck speed. Lots of funny special effects involving the animals from the lab add to the laughter and distract from the creaky storyline.

Naturally, by the time the movie ends, Dave has learned how to be a better husband and father as a result of being a great dog and justice is served, but that should come as no surprise seeing as this is a Disney feature. I will confess, however, that I found myself wishing the movie had been done by another studio just so there would have been a bit more excitement for Tim Allen (even if he was not really Tim but a dog stand-in). How about a surprise trip to the vet to be neutered? Or maybe he could have been dog-napped and thrown into a Mexican dog-fighting ring? Time for a de-worming? Think Quentin Tarantino. Now there would be The Shaggy Dog story I’d really be howling to see!

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