Did you hear the one about the talking dog? Well, of course you did. If you've ever been to the movies or watched television, then you know that our otherwise silent four-legged friends almost invariably come to verbal life when the cameras roll. We've had horses (Mr. Ed), mules (Francis), and pigs (Babe). True, Lassie and Rin Tin Tin held their tongues, but that's doubtless because the technical means of faking speech hadn't yet developed to the point we find in Good Boy! where instead of mundane "rescuing Timmy from a burning barn" realism, we have doggies from another planet.
Yes it's a "family film" of the sort we've become increasingly accustomed to these days; cute dogs for the kids to coo over and a plot just complex enough to keep the parents who've accompanied them to the theater from dozing off. But that's about all you can say for it -- outside of the fact that Good Boy! is without question the most elaborate and expensive talking dog movie ever made.
Directed by John Hoffman, this tale of a preteen dog-walker named Owen (Liam Aiken) who discovers that the terrier he's taken home from the pound to be his very own is here on an interstellar mission of canine world conquest, may divert some 6-year-olds. And their parents won't necessarily feel they've wasted eight bucks a head on the deal. For Liam Aiken has Haley Joel Osment potential, even in a film as conceptually prefabricated as this one.
Little Owen is more than a little alienated from his parents (Saturday Night Live alums Molly Shannon and Kevin Nealon), who buy and renovate houses only to sell them. The neighborhood he finds himself in as our story begins has become quite special to him both for its dog-walking possibilities and the fact that he's made a human friend (Brittany Moldowan as the "Nice Little Girl Who Lives Across the Street"). Then a flying saucer lands, carrying the terrier who becomes our hero's best pal -- and who speaks with the voice of Matthew Broderick. Telling Owen of his mission, the chatty canine (whom Owen dubs "Hubbell") introduces him to the other dogs who begin to speak with the voices of Delta Burke, Cheech Marin, and Carl Reiner. But that's not all, for the plot requires the visit from the extraterrestrial "leader of the pack," called "The Greater Dane." And it possesses the voice of Vanessa Redgrave.
Gilding the lily is Mark Mothersbaugh's score, a witty homage to Bernard Herrmann's score for The Day the Earth Stood Still. Yes, they could do worse -- and considering what's coming out of Hollywood these days, they probably will. But there's no point in saying anything more, really.
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Hey -- it's a talking dog movie!