Releasing a film with the word “dog” in its title in the dud zone that is January lends itself to easy jokes and insults, and “Snow Dogs” deserves every single one of them. It’s not so much that the film is one long exercise in silliness (after all, did anyone expect it to be otherwise?); it’s that the movie is so incredibly dull.
If you’re drawn in by the TV spots that prominently feature the titular dogs engaging in conversation, be forewarned: this is no snowy canine spin on “Babe.” The dogs only talk in one scene, and a fantasy scene at that; and while a big competition–here, an Iditarod-esque dog sledding race–does figure into the plot, winning the big trophy is not the primary issue at hand. Director Brian Levant and his team of five (!) credited screenwriters (all allegedly working from the “suggestion” of Gary Paulsen’s couldn’t-be-more-different book “Winterdance”) decide to work other exhausted clichés instead. Cuba Gooding Jr. makes another questionable career decision taking on the role of Ted Brooks, a Michæl Bolton-loving (ha ha) Miami dentist who inherits a group of race sledding dogs from the Alaska-based biological mother he never met. Thus the stage is set for instantly tiresome scenes of this city slicker slipping on ice and snow or getting attacked by ferocious dogs. Presumably the fact that Ted is a black man struggling with the wintry climes is supposed to make the proceedings funnier, but the gags aren’t funny to begin with. They’re downright torturous in their obviousness and predictability.
This being a Disney production released under the namesake banner, there is an attempt at some touchy-feely emotional dimension, but all too appropriately said content comes off as mush. Ted’s token romantic subplot with the town barkeep (Joanna Bacalso) is an instant fizzle; and similarly sappy and uninvolving is the main concern of the film, which is Ted’s ongoing attempt to bond with his freshly discovered biological father, a surly old dogsledder named Thunder Jack (played by James Coburn–and hence opening up even more cheap race jokes). The silly slapstick, sticky sentiment, and third-act dogsledding action don’t lead anywhere fresh and unexpected, but then again not a single aspect of the film is at all surprising. As can be expected, the abilities of the seasoned acting veterans in the cast, from Coburn to Graham Greene to “Star Trek” alumna Nichelle Nichols, are all squandered as they take a back seat to Gooding, who mugs his way through another picture. In a blatant move to appeal to teen and young adult audiences, a cross-demographic pop music star (Sisqo) turns up in a supporting part, and he not surprisingly proves his awful performance in last year’s “Get Over It” to be no fluke. And in keeping with the appearances set forth by its unpromising advertising campaign, “Snow Dogs” has not a single laugh to offer an audience.