This by-the-numbers 'rescue' film could use some saving

January 13, 1995|By Chris Kridler | Chris Kridler,Sun Staff Writer

"Far From Home" has many admirable qualities, not the least of which is its sincerity. One almost feels guilty for being bored.

The subtitle, "The Adventures of Yellow Dog," tells you that this is a movie with a split personality. Is it a dog movie? Or is it about a kid who's far from home? Of course, it's both, but it tries to draw on all the tried-and-true formulas of both genres, and its reliability is its downfall.

Jesse Bradford plays Angus McCormick, a nice kid on the cusp of adolescence who lives with his L. L. Bean-catalog parents (earnest Bruce Davison and archetypal mom Mimi Rogers) and his impishly cute little brother (Joel Palmer) in the Pacific Northwest. One day, a yellow dog shows up in the yard and Angus adopts him. In a burst of inspiration, Angus names him Yellow.

Dad and Angus and Yellow load their boat for a 200-mile trip up the coast to deliver supplies. The hapless crew must have listened to the same pesky weather forecaster who prompted Gilligan to take a three-hour tour, because the McCormicks run into a whopper of a storm. The boat tosses on an impressively angry sea, but the drama quickly climaxes. Angus and Yellow are washed overboard and end up on a rugged, rocky shore that's full of gorgeous scenery but decidedly lacking in McDonald's and telephones.

The struggle of the boy and dog to survive, and the adults' search for them, constitute the rest of the movie. Angus is plucky, if almost expressionless. His clever woodland skills should inspire any Boy or Girl Scout, and the forests he must traverse rivet the eye. Yellow (played by Dakotah and four doggie stunt doubles), while not exactly a charmer, proves to be steadfast and endearing. They are helped along by a John Scott musical score that's more sweeping than the action.

To his credit, director and writer Phillip Borsos has a quiet, down-to-earth approach to this succinct family drama. He takes his characters seriously. Unfortunately, he takes them so seriously that there's barely a laugh in the film -- and this is a dog movie.

"Far From Home" could have been full of fun and excitement, but it's not. If you've seen a movie like this before, you've seen this movie. There's the obligatory confrontation-with-wolves scene, the obligatory falling-down-the-hill scene, the obligatory eating-weird-critters-to-survive scene, and so on. There's one genuinely thrilling moment, just when things are looking up for Angus and Yellow, but after that it's a slow churn until the obligatory happy ending.

Yellow's name is unfortunate for a reason other than its essential dullness -- there's that association with the doomed Old Yeller. Don't expect a similar catharsis. This movie is too nice to do that. It may be a comfort to know it's nice, but it also doesn't have much personality.

"Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog"

Starring Jesse Bradford, Bruce Davison and Mimi Rogers

Directed by Phillip Borsos

Released by 20th Century Fox

Rated PG

**

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