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Snow Dogs

When the best joke in a movie released after 1993 involves Michael Bolton, you know you're in trouble. (Office Space is exempted — its running Bolton gag is only one of many good laughs.) The formerly long-locked crooner's good-humored self-mockery in Snow Dogs' mid-movie fantasy sequence is likely the only part of the film that will make viewers over the age of eight laugh out loud. The rest of the picture is a contrived, over-acted muddle that doesn't so much go to the dogs as make the dogs run away yipping. Cuba "Gotta Get a New Agent" Gooding Jr. stars as Dr. Ted Brooks, a flashy, self-satisfied Miami dentist whose world comes crashing down around him when he finds out he was adopted. Faster than you can say "rinse and spit," Ted is winging his way to a tiny town in Alaska for the reading of his birth-mother's will, where he finds out he's inherited, among other things, a team of rowdy husky sled dogs (and one border collie). At first determined to sell everything and high-tail it back to Florida's warm beaches, Ted and his array of colorful parkas end up staying thanks to 1) come-hither looks from local cutie Barb (Joanna Bacalso) and 2) the revelation that his father is sledding veteran Thunder Jack (James Coburn). Bent on showing Daddy that he's not a citified wuss, Ted practices mushing, ultimately picking it up with a relative ease that would make Jack London spin in his grave. Meanwhile, Jack's skills are tested when he gets lost during the big Arctic Challenge race. Don't worry about spoilers: The plot is classic Disney paint-by-numbers, which wouldn't matter nearly as much if Gooding had turned in a better performance. His over-earnest mugging, particularly during the long, lost-in-the-woods slapstick sequence, is grating; without the edge of a character like Jerry Maguire's Ron Tidwell, Gooding lacks conviction. Meanwhile, Coburn could play the role of Jack in his sleep — he's got "crusty old coot" perfected by now. In the supporting cast, the beautiful Bacalso is winning in her throwaway part, and it's nice to see Nichelle "Uhura" Nichols getting some screen-time as Ted's flighty mom (oh, and that's thong-songer Sisqo as Ted's brother and fellow dentist, Rupert). But surprisingly for a movie called Snow Dogs, the canines have relatively little screen time ... 101 Dalmatians this ain't. And what time they do have is dominated by overly evil-looking hound Demon; director Brian Levant (who knows from dogs, having helmed Beethoven) would have been well-advised to up the animal-appeal factor by letting some of the nicer pups share the spotlight. The dogs do get their day in a 12-minute featurette on Disney's extras-heavy DVD. Two other "making-of" shorts look at the film's characters and production design, while four deleted scenes and five extended ones offer a few more chuckles. Producer Jordan Kerner and an enthusiastic, high-energy Levant wax rhapsodic over the film in their commentary track; other goodies include "Ted's Arctic Challenge" snowmobiling game and sneak peeks at upcoming Disney DVDs. The full screen (1.33:1) transfer is strong, and both the DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks are clear. Other audio options include French 5.1 and English captions. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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