Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Project DCOM #3: YOU LUCKY DOG


I must admit that when I hit play on 1998’s You Lucky Dog, I was not expecting good things. I mean, you try not getting a prejudice worked up about this particular TV movie when I tell you it stars Kirk Cameron as a guy who can read dogs' minds. See? Not so easy to keep an open mind, is it?

The movie manages to be not quite as bad as I feared. It's amiable and rather sweetly dumb in the way that a not-so-bright pet can ingratiatingly cause a bit of a mess that takes no time at all to clean up. Filmed when Cameron was only a few years removed from his popular family sitcom Growing Pains and a few years before he waded into far-right Bible-thumping waters and emerged full loon, this movie is harmless kiddie stuff, the kind of thing that might've been a cheapie Disney B-picture back in the days that would still be a viable option. I mean, have you seen 1967's Monkeys, Go Home? Strange how things change, huh?

You can see I'm dancing around the main subject. This isn't because the movie's particularly awful. It's not. It would be easier to approach head-on if it were. I'm writing my way around it because its biggest failure is not clearing the basic low bar of any fiction: the question of why we should care. It’s clear that veteran TV director Paul Schneider and screenwriter David Covell assumed our answer would be: because it’s on. I'm not even talking the suspension of disbelief. When the movie opens – to the tune of a faux-Randy Newman singing a "You've Got a Friend in Me" knock-off – we get a montage of newspaper clippings that tells us Cameron's character was some kind of kid celebrity for his ability to commune with canine minds. Now, as an adult, he markets himself as a dog therapist, but we quickly learn that it's an act. He's a con man. But could he ever talk to dogs? Apparently it wasn’t always a con. When an eccentric rich man (Hansford Rowe) brings in his Lucky, the gift comes back. Fine. I can buy that. But I haven’t yet found a reason to care.

Why we have to have the is-he-or-isn't-he-a-fraud whiplash in these opening minutes is beyond me. But it’s what forces a change in Cameron's life, since his presumed fraudulent business is shut down coincidentally on the same day Lucky's owner suddenly dies. Yes, this movie moves fast, casting off characters and plot developments almost as quickly as it can introduce them. It's a whole lot of set-up for strained silliness to follow. You see, the rich man, on the basis of his sole dog-whisperer appointment, used his will to legally ensconce Cameron as the dog's trustee and translator, a job title in much need of filling, what with leaving all his wealth and assets to the dog.

The plot of the film follows Cameron trying to help the dog by listening so intently that he finds himself compelled to do very dog-like things. A scene in which he and the dog chew up all the couch cushions together typifies what goes on here. He's not so much communicating with the dog; he's possessed. That's what it looks like to the deceased rich man's scheming relatives (Taylor Negron, Christine Healy, and, Q himself, John de Lancie), who are entirely unsympathetic as they engage in tame slapstick to get their hands on the estate. The very thing that would allow them to claim the riches - Cameron's apparent insanity, what with the belief that he can hear Lucky's thoughts and all – is also the very thing that will legally allow the proper execution of the estate. It's a largely theoretically funny construct that's a sort of kiddie Catch-22.

But who cares where the money ends up? The climax of the film is an endless dumb courtroom scene that has no tension. Despite Cameron's likable enough performance, do we really want him to get the money? Sure, he can talk to dogs again, but he was an unrepentant con man for so long. The relatives are all cartoon-awful, but, hey, they do have a point. Why let this total stranger get their uncle's assets? The whole thing seems questionable to me, and needlessly overcomplicated in a way you'd not expect such lowest-common-denominator children's programming to be. In the end, who cares?

Up Next: Brink!

2 comments:

  1. Where did you watch it? I've been trying to find it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I saw it on YouTube some time ago. I'm not sure it's still there, but it might pop up again.

    ReplyDelete

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