Snow Dogs

Movie Information

Genre: Comedy
Director: Brian Levant
Starring: Cuba Gooding, Jr., James Coburn, Sysqo, Nichelle Nichols, Joann Bacalso
Rated: PG

If I was 10 years old, I’d probably love this predictable, silly little comedy. Since I’m not 10 years old, my feelings on Snow Dogs are somewhat less enthusiastic. I suppose you could say, “It’s good for what it is,” but even that’s somewhat stretching the truth. It’s more a case of “it’s adequate for what it is.” Director Brian Levant, who specializes in this sort of “family comedy,” manages to at least make the film look professional and keeps things on the move, doing what he can with a barely serviceable screenplay cobbled together by a committee of no less than five writers. (You can drag in a sixth writer, if you include the author of the book, Winterdance: the Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, that served to “suggest” the script.) The film has the feel of a carefully calculated committee effort. “Hey, wouldn’t it be a hoot if one of the dogs was always trying to attack Cuba?” “How about we have Cuba sprayed close up in the face by a skunk?” “What if it turns out that James Coburn is really Cuba’s father?” It’s entirely made up of that sort of thing — along with a lot of requisite fish-out-of-water gags about what happens if you put a trendy Miami dentist up in the frozen north, the standard-issue tame romance, and, of course, the quintessence of all uplifting family comedies: having the hero both redeem and “find” himself during the course of the movie. The only concept that makes Snow Dogs different from hundreds of other films of this sort lies in the dogs themselves — and modern technology’s ability to manipulate their expressions. (Anyone expecting a talking-dog movie based on a scene in the film’s trailer ought to be warned that loquacious canines only speak during one dream sequence. Depending on your feelings about the Mr. Ed factor, this is either a relief or a disappointment.) And, yes, the dogs are cute and clever with distinct personalities, but all too often I found the CGI expressions more disconcerting than funny — sometimes they even detract from the cuteness by overemphasizing a gag. But more often than not, the film works on its own merits and limited goals whenever the dogs take center stage. A good deal of the footage involving the human actors works rather less well. The entire set-up with Ted Brooks (Gooding) finding out he’s inherited something — said something turning out to be a cabin and a dog sled team in Alaska — from a Lucille Watkins, and learning that she and not Amelia Brooks (Nichelle Nicholls — yes, Lt. Uhuru herself) is his real mother is peculiarly flat. The scripting is merely adequate and the acting in this part of the film is almost amateurish. Once the film moves to Alaska, things improve, mostly by virtue of reliable character actors like James Coburn (who does an excellent job within the extreme limits of the character Thunder Jack) and M. Emmett Walsh. Most of the gags and the situations are groaningly predictable and the film relies far too much on the basic appeal of the dogs and Gooding’s likable screen persona to keep things afloat. They do, but only just. The laughs just aren’t there. It’s never actually bad, but it’s never very good. The best word for it is “pleasant,” though “harmless” might be nearer the mark.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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