See Spot Run as dumb as a kid’s book

By Paul Margach

When Lassie could rescue Timmy in every single episode ("What’s he saying?" the baffled townsfolk would ask; "Timmy’s on fire again?") it must have been apparent. And when the Littlest Hobo foiled criminals and even once piloted a hot air balloon all by himself, there could not have been any remaining doubt: dogs can easily outwit humans.

Perhaps then, the question arises: if mutts are so smart, why on Earth do they agree to be in such feeble movies? See Spot Run is merely the latest crime-solving-canine caper and should be judged within that particular context.

While Turner & Hooch was admittedly a pleasant team-up of dog-hating detective and saliva-drooling mongrel, those pictures that were produced in its slipstream (namely the appalling K9 and Top Dog) proved that the terms "milking" and "dry" just don’t fit in to the Hollywood vocabulary. Being so thoroughly spoiled for choice isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if only they didn’t all stick to the same, tired formula.

See Spot Run, sadly, is every bit as formulaic as its predecessors. It centres around the plucky Gordon (David Arquette), a clever mailman but a stupid person. Gordon manages to fall for his neighbour Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) but ends up falling in with her young son James (newcomer Angus T. Jones) who he reluctantly agrees to babysit. Meanwhile, the drug squad loses their star when Agent Eleven (yes, this is where the pooch comes in) goes missing. As it turns out he picked the worst time possible to hightail it, for his nemesis, mob kingpin Sonny Talia, hired a pair of henchmen to put the puppy to sleep. In evading his attackers, Agent Eleven stumbles upon Gordon’s mail truck and an instant love-hate bond is forged between man and his intellectual superior who just happens to drink from the toilet.

But it does not quite descend to the depths that say, Top Dog managed. The casting of Arquette was a rather shrewd move on the part of director David Whitesell. Whereas earlier stars struggled (or were just embarrassed) to act alongside a dog, it is as though Arquette’s been performing with them his entire life. He also seems man enough to acknowledge that he is not the main attraction. Did anyone who saw K9 really go for the thrill of seeing James Belushi? Given that even Tom Hanks was outclassed by Hooch, could anyone give a stellar performance in such a role? Free from the shackles of a bothersome, camera hogging actor, Spot’s intelligence, humour and adorable face are the focal point. As it turns out, it is a rare saving grace.

Others in the picture appear awkward, perhaps because the script does not allow for much. As the evil drug lord, Paul Sorvino is of particular note here; maybe he’s idling away his time before the directors of the next Goodfellas give him a call. For a fun romp, very little indicates the humans involved had a good time.

And our furry friend? Well, he once again gets to prove just how clever his species is and how clueless "dog’s best friend" can be. Hopefully, Lassie and the Littlest Hobo are looking on with approval from that great hot air balloon in the sky.

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