1993's "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey." 1995's "Babe." 1998's
"Dr. Dolittle." 2001's "Cats & Dogs." Was the world really in need
of another family film about talking animals? Uh, no. There is, after
all, such a thing as too much of a good thing, especially when that
'thing' wasn't particularly special to begin with. But if the virtually
unwatchable "Cats & Dogs" is any indication, "Good Boy!," by first-time
writer-director John Robert Hoffman, could have been a lot worse than
it ultimately ends up being.
Owen Baker (Liam Aiken) is a lonely 12-year-old boy whose renovator
parents (Molly Shannon, Kevin Nealon) are in the habit of compulsively
moving each time they work on a different house. An unlikely friend
for Owen arrives in the form of Hubble (voiced by Matthew Broderick),
a terrier dog from outer space who has come to make sure all the earthling
dogs are upholding the dignity of their royal, other-planetary roots.
At first Hubble is repulsed by the behavior he encounters from the
neighborhood dogs, but, with the help of Owen, soon learns the value
of devotion and love between animals and their human owners.
"Good Boy!" is harmless cotton-candy fluff that is bound to amuse
undiscriminating younger viewers, but pales when placed next to al
l the similar movies it is shamelessly derivative of. For proof, 1982's
classic "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" was the heartfelt story of an
alien and a boy who formed a powerful friendship; it told its story
with genuine humor and realistic human emotions, and did not pander
to any one age demographic. Replace a conventional alien with an alien
dog, add more fart jokes than you can count, and out comes "Good Boy!,"
which goes so far as to steal the same Uranus joke "E.T." had. In
fewer words, "E.T." was smart, imaginative, and incendiary. "Good
Boy!" is inconsequential and dumbed-down.
Where the picture's main failing falls, however, is on the relationship
between Owen and Hubble. For one, it is not developed enough to win
you over in the end like it wants to, and two, their friendship feels
more like a plot requirement than a believably natural progression.
As for the science-fiction aspect, in which the Earth's entire dog
population is threatened by the tyrannical Greater Dane (voiced by
Vanessa Redgrave), it falls flat and adds nothing to the proceedings.
Liam Aiken (2002's "Road to Perdition") is likable enough as Owen
Baker, particularly garnering some nice, quiet moments in the second
half, but he is occasionally asked to mug for the camera in a way
that he is too old for. In a less showy role than she's used to, the
very funny Molly Shannon (2003's "The Guest") adds warm maternal support
as Mrs. Baker. In the dog-voicing department, Matthew Broderick (1999's
"Election") is fine as Hubble and, standing out, Brittany Murphy (2003's
"Uptown Girls") is a quirky delight as the eternally nervous Nelly.
"Good Boy!" is passable entertainment for the under-10 crowd. Its
heart is in the right place and there is some cute interplay be tween
the dog characters. At the same time, a true quality family film demands
much more than simply repeating story ideas and basic dialogue exchanges
from previous, superior movies. "Good Boy!" ultimately lacks the three-dimensionality
and magical charm that are necessities of achieving this very feat.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman