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Thursday, March 9, 2006 06:43 pm

The dog with nine lives

The Mouse Factory recycles another old critter yarn

Were Disney just another run-of-the-mill widget-making business, I have no doubt that environmentalists would love it, because there’s no company that recycles as much as it does. From its substandard direct-to-video sequels of beloved animated classics to the regular remakes of proven cash-cow concepts, the Mouse Factory knows how to beat a dead horse better than any other Tinseltown dream factory. Although Disney may never get points for originality, give the company credit for squeezing every last cent out of a decent idea. The latest Disney retread is The Shaggy Dog, which incorporates elements from the 1959 Fred MacMurray-Tommy Kirk feature of the same name and the 1976 hit The Shaggy D.A., starring Dean Jones. Dare I mention there was a 1987 sequel and yet another 1994 remake, both done for TV? Any bit of originality that was present in this premise withered away long ago — yet what’s so surprising about this latest shaggy go-round is how often it’s laugh-out-loud funny. Tim Allen goes canine this time, portraying workaholic attorney Dave Douglas, who wants so badly to be named district attorney that he puts his work before his family. Dave doesn’t realize how good he’s got it: Wife Rebecca (Kristin Davis) is not only understanding but also hotter than an iron skillet in Death Valley, and his kids, Carly (Zena Grey) and Joe (Spencer Breslin), are bright, vibrant kids who just want to be loved. Of course, the only way for Dave to realize how lucky he is is to become a dog. This, of course, sets up many awkward misunderstandings and allows the special-effects wizards at Disney to do their magic — but what makes the film work is the sight of a distinguished cast having so much fun with the material. Allen will never be accused of being a great actor, but the doglike mannerisms he displays as changes begin to occur in his body are effective and humorous. Equally good is Robert Downey Jr., who, as scientist Marcus Kozak, goes canine as well. Seeing this troubled but talented actor growl, yelp, and run on all fours is as goofy as things get in Hollywood but proves damned entertaining.

Failure to Launch [PG-13] When Trip, a 30-something slouch, won’t move out of the house, his mother calls in the big guns: his dream woman. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East
The Hills Have Eyes [R] A remake of the Wes Craven 1977 classic about a conventional family traveling cross-country until they find themselves on a former government testing site with a vicious mutant family. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East
The Libertine [R] The Earl of Rochester’s debauchery filled days of bars, babes and brothels before his untimely death bolstered his poetry and life into infamy. Parkway Pointe
Look at Me [PG-13] The story of a young girl, Lolita, trying desperately to attract the attention of her self-absorbed book-publisher father. The film pokes fun at the literary world, but with a subtlety that makes the character’s flaws touching. French with English subtitles. White Oaks
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