Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 1, 2006)
Given my love for canines, I’m unusually open to films that feature them prominently. This means I end up watching more than a few clunkers. Though it offers some minor pleasures, I’d have to toss the 2006 remake of The Shaggy Dog into that pile.
At the film’s start, goons from pharmaceutical company Grant & Strictland go to Tibet where they abduct a mystical dog named Khyi Yag Po who barely ages. They want to discover the secret of his extraordinary longevity and market it as a drug.
While they do this, a related trial occurs. Animal rights activist Justin Forrester (Joshua Leonard) allegedly broke into the firm and started a fire. Dave Douglas (Tim Allen) prosecutes the case and has his eye on the soon to be vacated district attorney position.
This means the workaholic Dave rarely spends time with his family. His job also creates resentment in his 17-year-old daughter Carly (Zena Grey); Forrester is her teacher and she agrees with his animal rights views. After Dave makes her leave a protest outside Grant & Strictland, she takes her boyfriend Trey (Shawn Pyfrom) to find evidence of animal testing at the company. They come away with Khyi after he stages his own escape.
Carly soon recognizes that Khyi’s presence doesn’t prove anything against Grant & Strictland, but she takes him home anyway. This is fine with everyone except dog-hating Dave. When he tries to get rid of Khyi – renamed Shaggy – the pooch bites him. This sends Shaggy’s unique genetic pattern into Dave and causes the attorney to slowly mutate into a shaggy dog. As one might expect, this causes many complications as Dave tries to restore his familial bond and also ascend to the DA job.
If nothing else, I’ll give the 2006 Shaggy Dog credit for semi-originality. The movie doesn’t just rehash the story of the 1959 original, and despite its entry into the legal field, it doesn’t borrow much from 1976’s The Shaggy DA. It takes its own path, and I suppose that should count for something.
To my surprise, Allen brings a lot to the role. I can’t recall any work of his I’ve ever liked other than his vocal performances as Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story flicks, and I didn’t expect to care for him here. However, Allen gives it his all and milks the gags for all they’re worth.
Shockingly, he actually delivers some humor. Shaggy doesn’t provoke many chuckles, but when it amuses, it does so due to Allen’s investment in the role. The early scenes in which he behaves like a dog are the best, as the film’s more subtle bits are moderately entertaining.
In another surprise, Robert Downey Jr.’s take as the evil scientist Kozak provokes occasional mirth. As we learn in the commentary, he improvised quite a few of his lines, and ala Allen, he really throws himself into his part. Downey knows he’s slumming but he doesn’t care as he relentlessly chews the scenery. His cartoony approach works for his cartoon character and adds some humor to the project.
Unfortunately, too much of Shaggy focuses on cheap physical gags. We get the usual body function related humor that I expected from this kind of flick. None of these amuse, as they simply seem lame and predictable.
The movie loses a ton of steam when Dave totally turns into a dog. Allen’s voiceover work doesn’t give him much in the way of quality material, and the lame gags fail to evoke amusement. The flick fares best with Allen totally on screen and not just his voice.
The story sure doesn’t provoke much interest. While the whole emphasis on the shenanigans at Grant & Strictland creates all sorts of machinations, none of them add up to much. All of it comes across as a platform for the cheesy physical gags, so don’t expect to find anything interesting or stimulating in the story.
I must admit The Shaggy Dog entertained me more than I thought it would, solely due to some fun work from Tim Allen. Unfortunately, he can’t do enough to make this into a good movie. It falls into many predictable plots and traps as it fails to turn into something generally enjoyable.