review by Elias Savada, 25 January 2002
Veteran director Brian Levant
borrows all the predictability he previously cast upon us (Jungle
All the Way, The
Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, and Beethoven)
in guiding Disney's Snow Dogs
down the post-holiday family movie chute. There's not much to like
or dislike in this ride; it's the kind of all-season, live-action
amusement that the Disney studio has been churning out for decades,
involving all manner of animals (lions, and tiger, and bears…oh,
my!) pitted against a likable nebbish-out-of-water role model. Cuba
Gooding, Jr., fresh from last year's madcap Rat Race, is Snow Dogs'
leading victim -- a yuppified Miami dentist who inherits a team of
Siberian huskies and a cuddly sheep dog -- as he soon finds himself
on the receiving end of the animals' short leash. As a thickheaded
tenderfoot cast adrift in the snows of Alaska, Gooding is the
amiably flustered Ted Brooks, a plucky, ever-smiling owner of a
Florida dental franchise caught unaware when he learns Amelia (the
original Star Trek's
Nichelle Nichols), his charmingly sweet-as-sugar-cookies mother, has
hidden the dark secret of adoption from him. As his real mom has
died and left him her frozen assets, he's curious to discover his
roots and abandons the sunbelt for the icebound hamlet of Tolketna
to deal with his rascally inheritance, attend to the wacky
(demeanor) and decayed (teeth) denizens on that edge of
civilization, and uncover the identity of his father.
Wherein he find himself caught in
the mongrels' bit, the acceptor of numerous windswept pratfalls,
puppy love, and a just a smidgeon of danger. Just the right amount
of PG-rated fun to bring the kids into the theater for 99 minutes of
film fun and wholesome self discovery, wherein a poodle-hater
becomes a dog-lover and all the tykes go home happy. It's tamed
down, borderline Jack London for the masses, set against a
breathtaking, snow-capped backdrop. White Fang-less.
What director Levant does have
going for him is a wonderful supporting cast. Irascible James Coburn
comically snarls his way through most of the film as the grizzled
Thunder Jack, but his torment of the city slicker Ted turns to mush
when the foreigner discovers his true blood lines. M. Emmet Walsh is
his usual smarmy self as George Murphy, Ted's rugged pilot to the
outback. Back home mom and her semi-dunderheaded nephew Rupert
(Sisqo) are minding the store while Ted is caught in his dogs'
crosshairs and the playful eye of Barb (Joanna Bacalso), the local
barmaid in a town seemingly adrift of any other young and lovely
mademoiselles. As for Gooding, he's ok in a role that would have
been filled years ago by Dean Jones or Fred MacMurray. He can do
single- and double-takes just fine and maintains a cheerful
disposition despite the prankish abuse heaped upon him by man and
beast. The role's no career-maker or vocation-breaker, but an
easygoing example of Gooding's exaggerated comedic focus these days.
With a handful of writers, the
story isn't the selling point. Jim Kouf might have the proven track
record (Stakeout), but Michael Goldberg and Tommy Swerdlow provide that same
comedic championing of the human spirit found in their Cool
Runnings, wherein men from a tropical climate find themselves
contesting in a snowbound, world-renown sports classic. Hmmm. Yeah,
well it's not the winter Olympics this time, but the Arctic
Challenge, a 400-mile dogsled race, that garners ESPN's attention.
The first hour is a lead-up for that contest, wherein the aging
Thunder Jack makes his final quest for fame and glory, with a
determined Ted throwing in the expected last-minute heroics.
Dogs, the dogs do have their day, playing a few CGI practical
jokes on their mother's son before showing their noble brow. There's
plenty of heartwarming mush to swirl around here, and those parents
with a handful of pre-teens will find their youngsters enjoying the
wisecracking huskies (occasionally voiced by Jim Belushi) as Ted
finds himself asleep in a comically nightmarish landscape. It's as
harmless as yellow snow. Just don't fall into it too far.
Cuba Gooding, Jr.
M. Emmet Walsh
PG - Parental
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