Dogs talk, but film says little

October 10, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

If you don't like dogs, you won't like Good Boy!, or the things it implies.

That includes, first and foremost, the notion that dogs alone make life bearable. Without them, in the world according to this lighthearted little charmer from the Henson studios, people just wouldn't know what to do with themselves.

If you're a dog person, of course, this movie will only state the obvious, and you'll probably love it for that very reason (and the simple fact that we never get enough talking-dog movies).

But if you're neither here nor there about dogs ... aye, there's the rub. You'll probably find the pleasures of Good Boy! slight - amusing, but hardly inspired. And you'll be left with the sneaking suspicion that there could have been so much more there.

Liam Aiken (Tom Hanks' kid in Road to Perdition) is Owen, a friendless perennial newcomer to town (his parents buy old homes, renovate and sell them, then move on) whose heart's desire is to own a dog. But wouldn't you know, when he gets one, it turns out to be from outer space.

Canid 3942 (which Owen insists on calling Hubble) is an advance scout for a planet of dogs that long ago colonized Earth. It's leader, the Great Dane, is disturbed by reports that her charges are neglecting their mission - to dominate the planet - and are simply being kept as pets. If this proves true, she'll have no choice but to call all the dogs back to their home planet.

Owen, who accidentally acquires the power to understand dogspeak, is understandably horrified at the idea of losing all his best friends. First, he has to convince Hubble that dogs and people deserve each other; then, the two of them and a handful of other dogs from the neighborhood have to convince the Great Dane that the dogs should stay.

Of course, Good Boy! is cute, making some good points regarding just who is in charge around here (as one dog asks, who picks up whose poop?). And the dog voices, including Matthew Broderick as Hubble, Carl Reiner as an avuncular Bernese mountain dog and (in delightfully appropriate casting) Brittany Murphy as a high-strung Italian greyhound, are wonderful.

Still, many of the jokes are obvious and predictable, and the movie too often mistakes wholesomeness for cleverness. But there are worse cinematic sins, and Good Boy! is undeniably charming - a dog movie that's more lovable mutt than stately pedigree.

Good Boy!

Starring Liam Aiken and the voices of Matthew Broderick, Carl Reiner and Brittany Murphy

Directed by John Hoffman

Rated PG (mild crude humor)

Released by MGM

Time 87 minutes

Sun Score **1/2

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