Andy Bockelman: One dog of a movie
Although the superhero feature “Underdog” is about a beagle with the power of flight -among other abilities – there is nothing super about this dog of a movie.
A police dog (voiced by Jason Lee) who leaves the Capital City police force because of his weak nose is subjected to testing by brilliant but power-hungry scientist Simon Barsinister (Peter Dinklage) only to escape and be adopted by kindly security guard Dan Unger (Jim Belushi). Dan hopes that the pup (which he names Shoeshine because of his tendency to lick people’s shoes) will bring him closer to his distant son Jack (Alex Neuberger), but Jack is unimpressed. He changes his tune once he learns that his new dog can fly at sonic speed, dig a crater in a matter of seconds and, most importantly, talk in a voice that he can understand. Jack is excited at the prospect of having a superhero for a pet, but Shoeshine is reluctant to become the center of attention. However when Barsinister reemerges as a threat to the city, it is clear that this dog’s day has come.
To start with, Lee is all wrong for the voice of Shoeshine/Underdog; his cocky tone completely changes the character that was described as “humble and lovable” in practically every episode of the original cartoon. In fact, he is only a few shades away from reprising his villainous role from “The Incredibles.” Amy Adams is a little better casting as the voice of Shoeshine’s love interest, cocker spaniel Polly (notably shortened from the original character name Sweet Polly Purebred), who is more interested in his alter ego. Although he does his best, Dinklage does not take full advantage of one of the few characters that cannot be overacted; ironically, he leaves that task to Patrick Warburton, who plays Barsinister’s henchman, Cad. Warburton has played the part of dimwitted lackey so often it is second nature to him, but even his bizarre bleached hair does not inspire many laughs.
Granted, this update pays homage to the show that inspired it in a number of ways (Underdog’s incessant rhyming and clumsiness), and cutely references classic scenes from “Superman” and “Lady and the Tramp,” but so much of the other material is mind-numbing dreck. Forget the fact that the anthropomorphized characters of Shoeshine Boy and Sweet Polly Purebred are forced to remain as quadrupeds. Would the original Underdog make jokes nonstop about drinking out of the toilet and sniffing other dogs in uninviting areas? Besides that, the overwhelming scale of it all in movie form just betrays the small triumph that was the TV show. These reworkings of classic cartoons are getting progressively worse, from “George of the Jungle,” “Dudley Do-Right,” “Scooby-Doo” and “Garfield,” continuing on to “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” out this Christmas. Lee, obviously determined to destroy his career, also will be starring in this. Why does every cartoon have to be made into a live-action feature? Why not just leave it in animated form? Or better yet, leave it alone altogether and come up with a new idea instead.
Intended for kids, “Underdog” is a pretty half-hearted attempt at family entertainment. Snippets of the cartoon accompanied with a rousing rendition of the theme song at the movie’s opening are the high points, and will just remind viewers how much better the show is than its offspring.
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