The Shaggy Dog

Among the previous credits of the five people who wrote “The Shaggy Dog” are such films as “Daddy Day Care,” “The Prince & Me,” “Bad Boys II,” “I Spy” and “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.” The director, Brian Robbins, gave us “Varsity Blues,” “The Perfect Score” and the Keanu Reeves melodrama “Hardball.” That the unholy collaboration of these six people could produce a movie that is merely “bad” and not a whirling vortex of suckitude is cause to praise your higher power.

Disney has had mixed success with its remakes — hooray for “Freaky Friday”; boo for “Herbie: Fully Loaded” — and “The Shaggy Dog” falls on the bland, sloppily executed end of the spectrum. That gang of writers came up with generic plot points, then wrote the most obvious dialogue they could think of to get from one point to the next. They were probably working under the philosophy of “Why bother with intelligence? It’s just a kids’ movie!,” though that doesn’t explain the dim-witted work on their previous films.

Anyway, Tim Allen stars as Dave Douglas, a Los Angeles assistant district attorney who, we learn within 60 seconds of meeting him, dislikes dogs and doesn’t spend enough time with his family. (Pop quiz: What important event does he miss as an indication of his workaholism? The parent-teacher conference, of course.) His hot wife, Rebecca (Kristin Davis, 12 years younger than Allen), is growing exasperated by his long hours at the office; his teenage daughter Carly (Zena Grey) is caught up in animal-rights activism and objects to his prosecuting an activism-related case; and his middle-school-aged son Josh (Spencer Breslin) feel obligated by Dad to play football even though he doesn’t want to. Why, it’s a dog’s life!!

Then a magic dog bites Dave, and he turns into one.

Oh, it’s more complicated than that — TOO complicated, in fact — but that’s the gist of it. (It has to do with a research facility that’s found a Tibetan dog that is more than 300 years old and that might actually be a reincarnated person, or something.) Dave begins exhibiting canine symptoms immediately — increased scent-detection skills, lapping water instead of drinking it, and so forth — and the next day turns into a bona fide dog.

He switches back and forth, getting all doggy when his canine senses are stimulated and turning back into a human when he sleeps. When he’s a dog, he’s constantly trying to find a way of telling his kids that it’s HIM, Dad. So I wondered why he doesn’t write an explanatory note while he’s human, put it somewhere safe, then retrieve it when he’s a dog and show it to the kids. That’s what I would do, if I were Dave. I’m just sayin’.

Robert Downey Jr., Jane Curtin, Philip Baker Hall and Danny Glover, all talented actors, are wasted in small roles, but I guess you gotta pay the bills somehow. In the end, Dave the dog helps thwart evil scientists who test products on animals, and somehow that helps make Dave the human a shoo-in for district attorney in the coming election. That part isn’t really explained.

With its unimaginative jokes and heavily orchestrated “family bonding” moments (as a dog, Dave can be around the kids and hear what’s REALLY going on in their lives), “The Shaggy Dog” is quintessential Disney cannibalization, with no wit or energy to justify its existence. The sight of a grown man behaving like a dog is funny for a minute; unfortunately, the film lasts 98. And one of those minutes features the song “Who Let the Dogs Out?” — a hip, savvy cultural reference indeed, assuming this is still October 2000.

D (1 hr., 38 min.; PG, very mild thematic material.)