Jason Lee, Amy Adams, Peter Dinklage, Jim Belushi
Frederik Du Chau
Adam Rifkin, Joe Piscatella, Craig A. Williams
It should really come as no surprise that "Underdog," a film based upon a charming, yet basically irrelevant children's cartoon, is itself a basically irrelevant film.
Did anyone notice I left the word charming out of the film's description?
"Underdog" is, no more and no less, a family film. It is not a good family film. It is not a bad family film.
"Underdog" is simply a family film.
"Underdog" is a film that is safe for the entire family that will allow parents to share a part of their childhoods with their children.
Children, on the other hand, will be eternally grateful that children's programming has evolved past such generic, bland drivel.
Hmmmmm. Of course, that still doesn't explain the popularity of Barney or The Teletubbies.
Okay, so much for my theory.
Regardless, this cinematic "Underdog" is appropriately named, a family film with only a modest chance to make a box-office blip with a much stronger life expected once it finally hits video store shelves in a few months.
Belgian director Frederik Du Chau ("Racing Stripes") doesn't necessarily do anything wrong, per se, there's just this constant feeling that something is missing from "Underdog." Du Chau effectively captures Underdog's quirky humanistic traits but, somehow, the sheer stupidity of it all is gone.
Let's be honest. "Underdog" wasn't a brilliantly constructed cartoon...it was lame. Yet, it was the sheer joy with which it lived out its lameness that made it such a popular cartoon.
We didn't love "Underdog." We loved laughing AT "Underdog."
"Underdog" would, undoubtedly, achieve my incredibly average "C" rating if it merely rested comfortably in its sea of cinematic mediocrity. Unfortunately, Du Chau takes down with him a cast capable of so much more.
It's easy to understand why a cast of gifted, indie favorites would choose to associate themselves with such a flick. If you grew up with "Underdog," how could you not want to be a part of its cinematic revival?
One has to wonder if halfway through the film the likes of Jason Lee, Amy Adams and Peter Dinklage weren't looking amongs themselves going "What have we gotten ourselves into?"
At a mere, yet merciful, 80 minutes, we are introduced quickly to Underdog's not so ordinary gifts of gab and grandiosity. Underdog (Jason Lee) and his owner (Alex Neuberger) banter back and forth until Underdog gets the courage to fully utilize his gifts to their almost full potential despite the tauntings of a neighborhood bully (Brad Garrett) and not-so attentive Polly Purebred (Amy Adams). Throw in a romance between Jack, Underdog's owner, and Polly's owner (Taylor Momsen), an evil scientist (Peter Dinklage) and Jack's bumbling father (Jim Belushi) and you have the makings of a quick, harmless journey into generic family fare semi-reminiscent of the "Look Who's Talking" films.
Penned by Adam Rifkin with writing partners Joe Piscatella and Craig A. Williams, "Underdog" is too harmless to be labeled a bad film...yet, it's too much of a missed opportunity to truly consider giving it a recommendation.
"Underdog" may elicit a few "awww" moments from fans of the original cartoon, and small children may be enchanted by the cute puppy. This cute puppy won't be nearly enough to distract the older children from the fairly lame proceedings wrapped around it.
Much more frenetic than its animated predecessor, perhaps the best thing that can be said about "Underdog" moves quickly and doesn't waste its time with unnecessary filler...or as Underdog himself would say "Don't worry, sport..."Underdog" is short!"
- Richard Propes
The Independent Critic