In his feature-film debut, director John Hoffman delivers a hopelessly endearing young male lead, a few guffaws from goofy pooch antics, and even a throat-lumping moment or two about human-canine bonding. But in the end, Good Boy is about as exciting as watching Rover roll over and play dead.
Owen Baker (Liam Aiken, Road to Perdition) is the object of benign neglect by his preoccupied parents, played by Molly Shannon (ex of TV’s Saturday Night Live) and Kevin Nealon (Daddy Day Care, as well as an SNL vet). The pair are house renovators, camping out in one residence after another as they fix these places up for resale. The constant uprooting makes Owen desperate for a steady boy’s best friend of his very own. Meanwhile, he earns pocket change as the neighborhood dog-walker, the daily caretaker of a motley canine crew.
One day a spaceship crashes nearby, and the extraterrestrial pilot, Canine 934 (voiced by Matthew Broderick), starts strolling the neighborhood. This super-mutt promptly gets himself picked up by the animal-control meanies, who throw him in the dog pokey. Canine 934 soon gets adopted by Owen, who dubs him “Hubble.” Hubble turns out to be a really smart dog; in fact, he’s too smart, performing all the usual stupid-dog-tricks without being trained.
Following Hubble on his mysterious late-night wanderings, Owen accidentally gets jolted into a new state of consciousness, where (like my favorite animated heroine, Elizabeth, of The Wild Thornberrys) he gains the power to hear dogs talk. The truth about our canine companions is astonishing — they were sent to Earth many thousands of years ago to dominate the planet, but got hoodwinked by mere humans into being pampered pets. Unless the wimpy furballs hurry up and switch roles with humans, the Great Dane (voiced by Vanessa Redgrave), leader of the world of Sirius (get it: Sirius, aka the Dog Star, in the constellation Canis Major), will call for global removal of all Earth dogs to Sirius for intensive brainwashing. The dogs talk and talk about what to do, with one thing finally leading to another — and before the end-credits roll, the space-traveling pooches are returning home to their overjoyed humans.
Despite its snoozer pace, Good Boy seemed to touch funny bones among the kindergarteners at the showing I attended — they went into peals of laughter at the doggie-poo jokes (of course) and other occasional entertaining moments, most notably when the dogs are trying to defy gravity with noses aimed skyward, ears a-flapping, and tails a-wagging. Dog-loving adults, however, should wait until Good Boy comes out on video/DVD, so you and your beloved beasties can cozy up and chew it over together.
My mother’s entire universe revolves around her curly-haired terrier, Buddy, so I thought she’d be ecstatic about a movie that stars a Buddy-look-alike.
“He was very cute,” my mother said, meaning the dog, not the boy. But how about the movie itself, the whole shebang? I asked. “Oh, that,” she replied. “Pretty monotonous. After a while you get tired of talking dogs.” Arf, Mom.
— reviewed by Marci Miller