Good Boy!
review by Dan Lybarger, 10 October 2003

Because Good Boy! involves talking dogs who are far more advanced that the people who are their alleged masters, it's easy to dismiss it as a knock off kid flicks like Cats and Dogs.

While there's not much to get excited about with the new film, it does have some interesting touches that set it apart from its predecessors. These bits don't make it great entertainment, but they put a grin on your face in a way that the other films couldn't.

The first and most important is that director John Hoffman uses special effects to serve the story, whereas Cats and Dogs went overboard with giving the animals James Bond-like gadgets and practically bludgeoned viewers with the images.

Working with the folks at Jim Henson Productions, Hoffman and company treat the idea of dogs being intellectually superior to humans as a matter of fact. The dogs look as if they are actually talking, and the spaceships fly convincingly. Nonetheless, the filmmakers never feel the need to stop the tale's pacing in order to emphasize the cool effects they've created.

The story, adapted from Zeke Richardson's book Dog's from Outer Space by Richardson and Hoffman deals with an earnest lad named Owen Barker (nicely played by Liam Aiken from The Road to Perdition) who walks other people's dogs in the hope of later having one of his own.

His folks (Saturday Night Live veterans Kevin Nealon and Molly Shannon) restore old houses for a living, so the family is always moving and never settling any where long enough for Owen to make friends. Considering that most of the kids in his current neighborhood pick on him, it's easy to see why Owen would prefer the company of a dog.

When his folks are forced to let him have the pooch he's always wanted, Owen chooses a feisty little creature who interrupted the boy's walk by rousing the other animals. When the dog that he's named Hubble runs off, Owen follows him and hopes to take him back but discovers that the animal is working with strange electronic devices.

Owen then awakens and discovers that Hubble speaks (with Matthew Broderick's voice). In fact, he can now understand what all the dogs in his neighborhood are saying, and that the situation looks potentially grave.

Hubble's been sent from the dog star Sirius to determine if Earth's canine's have properly conquered Earth the way they've dominated other planets in the galaxy.

After talking with the other dogs Hubble becomes dismayed because Earth's dogs have become, well, pets. He and Owen diligently try to create a ruse of superiority before his superior, the Greater Dane (voice by Vanessa Redgrave) comes to Earth to prevent her from ordering all dogs back to Sirius for retraining.

Good Boy! is occasionally clever, but is never laugh out loud funny or gripping. Instead, it has a genial tone that usually carries the picture. Hoffman and Richardson do create a few clever moments. For example, Hubble recoils in horror when he discovers that toilets are not drinking vessels.

The most interesting thing about Good Boy! is the voice acting. The thespians selected to talk for the dogs give the animals distinct and clear personalities and do it so well that one expects the creatures to talk off screen. Delta Burke is almost typecast as a proud poodle, and Carl Reiner seems at home as a lazy mountain dog. The real standout, though, is Brittany Murphy (8 Mile) as an Italian greyhound named Nelly. Murphy's nervously high-pitched voice seems eerily at home in the dog's body.

Because Good Boy! manages to elicit some engaging moments from a seemingly timeworn setup, it feels more disappointing when the flaws surface. While it's obvious that people walk dogs for reasons other than exercise, there are a few too many jokes about feces and flatulence. Also the bullies who taunt Owen seem meaner than necessary. Some adults at the screening I attended recoiled when the cruel lads started throwing rocks at Hubble and his pals.

Good Boy! gives its viewers a lot more than the annoying trailers would imply and deserves special credit because, unlike the trailers, it lacks that annoyingly overplayed tune by the Baha Men.

Directed by:
John Robert Hoffman

Starring:
Liam Aiken
Kevin Nealon
Molly Shannon
Matthew Broderick
Brittany Moldowan
Susan Bain
Hunter Elliott
Donald Faison
Brittany Murphy
Mikhael Speidel
Carl Reiner

Written by:
John Robert Hoffman
Zeke Richardson

Rated:
PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may
not be appropriate
for children.

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