Evil Dr. Kozak (a goofily sinister Robert Downey Jr.) has spent significant time and money to bring a 300 year-old Tibetan dog to his labs to harvest the canine's secret to longevity. When the dog escapes, he finds his way to the home of neglectful attorney Dave Douglas (Tim Allen), who is representing Dr. Kozak in a trial. When the dog bites Dave for emphasis, the lawyer is quickly consumed by canine impulses, and eventually is completely overcome and turned into a pooch. Trying to secure the help of his mystified family (Kristen Davis, Zena Grey, and Spencer Breslin), Dave struggles with his dual life, but finds he must act quickly to save his family and his newfound animal friends from Kozak.
"Shaggy Dog" is Disney strip-mining their back catalog further ("Herbie: Fully Loaded") for hits that will appeal to the kids who love anything put in front of them, and the parents who have pangs of nostalgia for the original film. It's a fascinating way of doing business, but often leads to mixed results. Where "Herbie" found some fresh ground to drive around on, "Shaggy Dog" feels like the same old stale family film storytelling, this time souped up with computer effects and the faintly wheezing comedic talents of Tim Allen.
When not playing Santa Claus, Allen can be a real drag to watch. His natural devious comedic skills long ago flattened by Mickey, Allen is stuck playing concerned dad roles every year, and now the screenwriters have found a way to turn him into a dog. Terrific. "Shaggy Dog" sure feels like it should be a home run role for Allen. This is an actor who is gangbusters with tomfoolery, but the script doesn't give him any opportunity for it. The performance doesn't inspire magic, or many laughs either, and feels like a wildly missed opportunity.
Director Brian Robbins is driving "Shaggy Dog" at two speeds: endearing and slapstick. There's no in-between; no tart middle for Allen to sneak in some bawdy, or at least snappy laughs while stuck in his four-legged phase. Either Dave is all shrugs and regret for being an absent father, or Robbins has the character trampling restaurant tables and chasing cats to the noxious overture of "Who Let the Dogs Out?" (woof...woof, woof, woof...damn, it got me again!). But then again, Robbins is not a very motivated director ("Varsity Blues," "Hardball"), and he willingly leads the film into grating sequences that have Allen interacting with a growing number of CG creatures. He skips the more interesting ideas for gags, including Dave's nudity when he transforms back into a human or various pet-centric habits that dog owners would get a big kick out of. Robbins only gets about as far as having Dave raise one leg at a urinal, and he beats the whole "fetch" idea into the ground.
It goes without saying that "The Shaggy Dog" doesn't have the charm of the Tommy Kirk original or the Dean Jones sequel. This "Shaggy Dog" merely slops on computer trickery and heartwarming message 101 plotting in the absence of creative screen writing and inspired direction.
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