If you're expecting anything resembling the beloved cartoon, you'll enjoy the title sequence and nothing else. If, however, you set your expectations just low enough, or are an easily satisfied 8-year-old, you might have a bit of fun. The first half is all backstory: Our star pooch (voiced by Jason Lee) is an incompetent rookie in the K-9 unit of the...read more
If you're expecting anything resembling the beloved cartoon, you'll enjoy the title sequence and nothing else. If, however, you set your expectations just low enough, or are an easily satisfied 8-year-old, you might have a bit of fun.
The first half is all backstory: Our star pooch (voiced by Jason Lee) is an incompetent rookie in the K-9 unit of the Capitol City police force, but after mistaking a ham for a bomb during the mayor's (John Slattery) press conference, he quits in disgrace, only to be dog-napped by mad scientist Simon Barsinister (Peter Dinklage) and his overgrown, half-witted sidekick, Cad (Patrick Warburton). Barsinister works for Growth Research Sciences by day, but spends his off-hours devising a gene-modifying serum he hopes will make K-9 training obsolete. Just one capsule of his magic formula will endow an ordinary dog with the speed of a cheetah, the strength of an elephant and the ability to soar like an eagle. Our intrepid pup escapes Barsinister's clutches, but not before getting dosed with the potion. He's found and adopted new GRS security guard Dan Unger (James Belushi), a former Capitol City cop who quit after his wife's death. Dan names him Shoeshine and takes him home to his depressed son (Alex Neuberger) in hopes that the dog will help mend their strained father-son relationship. Having found the home he always wanted, Shoeshine is content to live the life of a pampered house pet. But once Jack realizes Shoeshine comes with a set of superpowers — including speech — he encourages him to fulfill his destiny: fighting bad guys, particularly Simon Barsinister, who was horribly disfigured during Shoeshine's escape and now wants revenge on the entire city. So Shoeshine dons his trademark suit and cape, starts speaking in bad rhymes (doggerel, if you will) — including the immortal tagline "There's no need to fear! Underdog is here!" — and becomes the world's furriest superhero since Wolverine. Look, up in the sky! It's a plane! It's a bird! It's a frog! It's Underdog!
Once Shoeshine masters his new abilities (though true to the cartoon, he never quite nails those landings), the film becomes a string of whooshing action sequences and silly stunt work, the kind of thing kids find funny. It's nothing like the original cartoon, but it's all pretty innocuous (though the unexplained, digital disappearance of Shoeshine's genitals about halfway through is the stuff of adolescent boys' nightmares) and comes with a nice message about heroes and underdogs. Adam Rifkin's script has a few funny lines, mostly observations about human behavior from Shoeshine's point of view (he's shocked that Jack pees in his lovely ceramic drinking bowl), while Dinklage and Warburton — a truly inspired pairing — seem to be having a good time. Sadly, one can't say the same for the poor dogs who played the super-pooch. Forced to perform an array of stunts, presumably in front of a green-screen with a wind-machine blowing in their faces for much of the time, they look truly miserable. One can only hope that at the end of the day, they were treated to extra helpings of upscale craft-services scraps.