The genre of superheroes, both in comic books and in film, has always fascinated me to no end. It’s difficult to say what makes a story in this field more popular than others, especially in the film world. Over the past 5 years, cinemagoers have been exposed to a trilogy of “Spider-Man” films, each centering on a whiney kid flinging around New York City and fighting evil scientists, while he contemplates if he should be with this hot girl or not. Film fans loved this series, no matter how painful the dialogue or how wooden the acting got, and assisted in making it one of the most financially successful franchises of all time. Many have argued against my thoughts about these films, saying that a lot of these elements were in the comic. So, if something this awful was in the comics, what was so good about it in the first place? But I digress.
Shoeshine (voiced by Jason Lee) is an ex-police dog that is captured by some employees of a company looking for test subjects. Simon Barsinister (Peter Dinklage) is an evil little scientist looking to create the ultimate super concoction of strength and prowess to make a few bucks selling this secret to the Armed Forces. When Barsinister tries to inject Shoeshine with a syringe full of a bright blue mixture, the dog fights him off, causing the lab to burn. The dog escapes and finds his way into the hands of Dan Unger (James Belushi) who then brings him home to his son, Jack (Alex Neuberger from last year’s classic “Running Scared”).
It’s at about this time when Shoeshine begins to learn that there is clearly something wrong with him. He is a lot more powerful than any beagle should be, he can run faster than a speeding car, and he has the power to fly. Jack then learns that he can understand what the dog is saying, as the dog coincidentally speaks perfect English. The two then decide this power should go to better use by using it to fix some of the cities problems.
“Underdog” is based on the ever popular cartoon from the 60s and is yet another superhero origin story. It’s clear that the show, for those who remember it anyway, was a send-up of the “Superman” story but instead of an annoying white guy being the hero, we got a talking beagle. Thankfully for us, this beagle never whines or complains, and the first third of this film is actually a somewhat good satire on superheroes in general. If people have no problem buying that a white guy surrounded by an army of journalists is never figured out when he takes off his glasses and switches the part in his hair, why can’t they buy this story about a flying dog?
Regardless, what probably made the show so tolerable and popular was the fact that each episode was under a half an hour long. This movie is about 84 minutes long and gets tiresome after the first 20 minutes or so. Like “Garfield” before it, they chose to change the cartoon setting to a real world one, replacing the animated hero into a real beagle with computer-generated assistance. Continuing the superhero genre trademark, the effects are never believable or great, but they aren’t completely worthless either.
The screenplay, tackled by three people, follows the formula of the show (and the genre in general) rather well. If only it wasn’t so stale. They had no problem including many of the cartoon’s elements (like Riff Raff and Polly) but they failed teaching this old dog a new trick for audiences to care about.