There are many people who think International Criminal Court in The Hague should administer the death penalty. True, most of these people are from Texas. Me, I don’t believe in the death penalty, but it does strike me as supremely unfair that the very worst punishment meted out for war crimes is simply life imprisonment. If there were any true justice, the perpetrators of genocide and torture would not only be imprisoned for the remaining days of their natural lives but put on life support for a few extra years and made to watch movies like The Shaggy Dog each and every one of those days.
I won’t go so far as to accuse the filmmakers of perpetrating crimes against humanity. … Yes. Yes, I will. This is unforgivable shit, people. Among the many evils being foisted upon the unsuspecting populace: not one, not two, but several full-screen shots of Tim Allen’s bare chest. I don’t know why it is that male movie stars over 50 feel the need to prove their eternal hotness by exposing their incontrovertibly solid chest muscles to us all, but I do know that no one is telling these men that it is not enough to have rock-hard pecs when the skin that lies atop said pecs is old man skin. I blame Harrison Ford, frankly. I still have nightmares about his withered, leathery epidermis sagging its way across his personally-trained chestal area in Six Days Seven Nights and What Lies Beneath. Now, thanks to this Shaggy Dog debacle, Tim Allen takes his rightful place at the end of the desiccated conga line of Stars with Too Many Yes Men, behind Michael Douglas and his droopy, pallid asscheeks from hell.
How Mr. Allen comes to be naked for all to see is, of course, the thing I’m avoiding telling you. Maybe it was in high school, maybe junior high, but somewhere along the line, we all learned the concept of “suspending one’s disbelief.” Sure, we know that no human being on earth could withstand the beatings Mel Gibson endures in his oeuvre and still come up with nary a bruise, let alone shattered cheekbones and gaping, flapping mouth wounds. But we suspend our disbelief, you see, for the pleasure of allowing the hero to take on the bad guys and come up smelling like an unscarred rose. We suspend our disbelief to the best of our ability when confronted with people like Denise Richards playing nuclear physicists and Michelle Pfeiffer playing homely, lonely waitresses.
It is the suspension of disbelief that allows us to watch a plot unfold wherein a magical dog bites a man and transfers his magicness to that man; it is suspension of disbelief that we need in order to ignore the glaring lapses in logic (even in a movie where a magic dog is central to the plot), the absurd leaps taken by virtually every character to confront the reality of a man transformed into a dog and completely accept that reality within seconds. But there is not enough suspension of disbelief in the world to explain away the outrageous schmaltz, the insultingly simplistic morality play, the giant sucking sound that is this grotesque mockery of a movie.
High in the mountains of Tibet, a private team kidnaps a magical dog whose life span seems to have no end. Meanwhile, in sunny Los Angeles, “workaholic” attorney Tim Allen breezes through his family life long enough for Captain Exposition to inform us that Allen is prosecuting a man for allegedly setting fire to a laboratory where, the man claims, horrifying animal experiments are performed. Allen’s daughter belongs to a PETA-clone group protesting the prosecution and the experiments. Meanwhile, Allen’s son plays football to please his dad, but really wants to be Danny Zuko in the school musical. Beautiful wife Kristin Davis just wants to be paid attention to, damn it. (And I want to know why it is that the producers of films like these think it’s remotely plausible that a woman like Kristin Davis would stay married to a man like Tim Allen if he didn’t pay an awful lot of attention to her.) Allen makes distracted promises about attending the parent-teacher conference and making reservations for his wedding anniversary dinner, and we all know how that’s going to turn out, don’t we?
Meanwhile, the kidnapped magical dog escapes the lab and runs into Allen’s daughter and her boyfriend, who’ve broken into the building to find proof of the experiments. She brings home the dog, which promptly bites Allen, who promptly begins turning into a dog himself. Henceforth, the only redeeming features of the film will be Allen’s sporadically hilarious impersonations of a dog in a man’s body. There are actually quite a few of these moments, though their potency is immediately doused by the return to treacly lectures in the form of Allen’s inner monologue, wherein he realizes what a bad husband and father he has been and swears to himself and anyone within barking distance that he’ll change, by God, once he catches the evil scientist played by Robert Downey Jr. in the act of being an evil scientist.
There are three lessons to be learned in the nauseating world according to the fiends responsible for The Shaggy Dog. The first is that it is not enough to be a successful professional with an idyllic life in the suburbs and two beautifully well-adjusted, socially-aware children; if you’re not fully conscious of those children’s inner lives and if you fail to tell your wife you love her often enough, you are a Very Bad Man (and, presumably, deserving of a metamorphosis into a floppy sheep dog). Second, animal testing is a Very Bad Thing, and any companies that use animals to test their products are probably also perpetrating horrible experiments on those animals, creating the very human-animal hybrids of which President Bush spoke in his most recent and, as we now know, incredibly prescient State of the Union Address. The third and most important lesson to take away from The Shaggy Dog is this: While it is an undeniable fact that Robert Downey Jr. is likely to be the best part of any film starring Tim Allen, and that many in the audience will be pathetically grateful for his presence in said film, not even Robert Downey Jr. can save cinematic excrement such as this, and he should never again be called upon to try.
Coda: Those of you with children will, likely as not, have very little choice in the matter and be forced to see this movie, regardless of how much you beg. If this is the case, I advise copious quantities of mind-altering substances be drunk, smoked, or injected before entering the theater. There’s not enough Jägermeister in the world to block out the pain entirely, but at least you’ll be diverted by the literal nausea.
Maryscott O’Connor reviews children’s movies for Pajiba and publishes the liberal weblog My Left Wing. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son.
The Shaggy Dog / Maryscott O'Connor
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()