Snow Dogs

 

Robin Clifford 

Robin Clifford 

Ted Brooks (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is a successful dentist in the city of Miami. He hates dogs and loves it warm until, one day, he receives a court summons to go to Tolketna, Alaska for the reading of the will of one Lucy Watkins. He is inclined to ignore the request for his presence in the colder climes until his mom (Nichelle Nichols) tells him that he is adopted and Lucy is, in fact, his real mother. Ted heads north to collect his inheritance and come home but finds, when he arrives, that he is proud owner of a dogsled team in "Snow Dogs."

Robin:
"Snow Dogs" is lively, benign family entertainment whose humor is geared to slapstick and gross out jokes. In typical fashion, Ted has to face all sorts of obstacles in his journey to enlightenment and discovery. He is attacked by his inheritance - seven big huskies named Demon, Yodel, Diesel, Sniff, Scooper, Mack and Duchess; dragged for miles through the snow by his sled team; maligned by the local mountain man, Thunder Jack Johnson (James Coburn); falls off of a mountain; and, is chased by a really big bear.

Cuba Gooding Jr. is an always amiable, extremely likable personality who displays a good sense of humor and good comic timing in his very physical role as Ted. The Academy Award winning actor (Best Support for "Jerry Maguire") has not done anything, with the exception of "Men of Honor," to show much in the way of real thesping. He must be, with the many little, inconsequential perfs in films like "Rat Race," raking in a good paycheck but he is surely not stretching his abilities.

James Coburn has cornered the market in recent years as the gruff, irascible, old guy and he delivers once again here. The veteran actor has had an extraordinary career that also culminated in Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his powerful performance in "Affliction." He lends his maturity and ability and helps give "Snow Dogs" some credibility. I have to ask the question, though: Two Academy Award winning actors in this thing?

Support is good if underutilized. Joanna Bacalso plays the romantic interest as a smart Alaskan native, Barb, who helps Ted cope with his new environment. Veteran character actors M. Emmett Walsh, Brian Doyle Murray and Graham Greene do little but fill out the background. R&B star Sisqo has a tiny role as Ted cousin and colleague. "Star Trek's" own Nichelle Nichols plays Ted's adoptive mom. The real supporting cast (given more to do than the humans) is the gorgeous gang of huskies, augmented by animatronics.

The film that jumped too my mind as I watched "Snow Dogs" is one of my all time favorites, "Local Hero." The fish-out-of-water premise applies in both cases with our champion going off on a mission to a strange and distant place where all sorts of quirky, eccentric people come into his life. He is changed and enriched by the experience before he must go home. While "Local Hero" ends on a melancholy, thoughtful note that genuinely stirs the heart, "Snow Dog" takes the low road with a cookie cutter happy ending that is meant to please everyone.

The kids will enjoy the fast pace, lowbrow humor and lots of puppies. Adults, other than the parents of said kids, will be hard pressed to succumb to the call of the wild. I give it a C+.

Laura:
Dr. Ted Brooks (Cuba Gooding, Jr., "Pearl Harbor") has a hugely successful Miami dentist practice where his mom (Nichelle Nichols, TV's "Star Trek") keeps his deceased dad's 'personal touch' alive by dispensing her homemade sugar cookies in the waiting room.  When Ted is served a summons for an inheritance from a woman named Lucy in Tolketna, Alaska, mom's forced to finally tell him he was adopted.  The Miami native travels Northwest with intentions of squaring away his inheritance, but he's intrigued by stories of his mushing mom and challenged by his dad's disdain in "Snow Dogs."

Director Brian Levant ("The Flintstones in Viva Las Vegas," "Jingle All The Way") delivers yet another groan rather than laugh-inducing comedy with "Snow Dogs."  Allowing his actors to mug maniacally for the camera, Levant's direction kills any comedy that might have been wrung from this tired material.

Suggested by the serious dog-sledding novel "Winterdance," screenwriters Michael Goldberg & Tommy Swerdlow ("Cool Runnings"), Philip Halprin & Mark Gibson ("The In Crowd") and Jim Kouf ("Rush Hour") have come up with the type of broad, fish out of water comedy where each crossed signal is telegraphed a mile away and the lead character falls down a lot.

Ted meets the entire town when his mother's will is read in Tolketna's watering hole, owned and operated by the feisty Barb (Joanna Bacalso, "Bedazzled").  First lawyer and bush pilot George (M. Emmet Walsh, "Blood Simple") announces Lucy's sprung for a round of Wild Turkey for everyone, then Peter Yellowbear (Graham Greene, "Lost and Delirious") gets a golfing putter and an insult.  Barb gets a shearling coat (that looks fresh off the rack).  Thunder Jack (James Coburn, "Affliction") gets her outhouse and all its contents.  Ted gets the rest.  Barb walks Ted out to her log cabin and barn and leaves him.  No one in the entire town thinks to mention her pet Border Collie Nana or her Siberian Husky sledding team of Demon, Mack, Diesel, Duchess, Scooper, Yodel and Sniff.

Thunder Jack wants the dogs but tries to cheat Ted.  Ted tries to leave, but is told his real father's name by Barb, who for some reason not shown here has fallen for Ted, as a delaying tactic.  Next thing we know, the dog-hating Ted is training for the upcoming Arctic Challenge.

Cuba Gooding Jr. has yet to come even close to his Oscar winning performance in "Jerry Maguire."  After "Snow Dogs," he should voluntarily give back his trophy.  Coburn glides by on his gruff facade while relative newcomer Bacalso looks pretty and acts capable as the unmotivated love interest. Greene, Doyle-Murray and Walsh don't embarrass themselves, but rapper Sisqo, as one of Ted's Miami dentists should stick to his day job.  Nichelle Nichols appears lost when not in space.

Kudos to the animal trainers and animatronics experts who made replicas of the real things, but if you want to catch a good dog-sledding flick, rent the animated "Balto" instead.

D

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