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Underdog

Disney Enterprises

Review in a Hurry:  Cute live-action pooches and painstaking CGI aren't quite enough to keep this remake of the vintage 'toon crackling, although Peter Dinklage and Patrick Warburton manage to bring the funny as Underdog's cracked archenemies.

The Bigger Picture:  In a wholly uncalled-for fusion of Spider-Man, Air Bud and Look Who's Talking Now, director Frederik Du Chau transforms the campy '60s and '70s cartoon into a mostly toothless, family-friendly action-comedy. Jason Lee provides the voice of the titular superhound, and while the straight PG rating acknowledges "rude humor" and "mild language," there are only faint traces of the crass, sarcastic Lee we came to love in Kevin Smith features. Aside from some pretty tame poo-poo allusions and a couple of tense fight scenes, this is definitely kids' stuff.

When a botched bomb detection sends a well-meaning police beagle into early retirement, he finds himself an involuntary subject in the genetic experiments of self-aggrandizing Dr. Simon Bar Sinister (Peter Dinklage). Cue the laboratory accident in which our four-legged hero is suddenly endowed with all manner of mighty abilities—incredible strength, flight, superspeed—plus the voice of TV's Earl. A widowed ex-cop (Jim Belushi) and his teen son (Alex Neuberger) give the gifted mutt a new home from which to forge his new crime-busting alter ego, as well as an opportunity to heel, er, heal a fractured father-son bond.

There's nothing the least bit surprising in this feel-good caper, and while the digital effects are solid, they're rarely put to any unpredictable use. The most inspired work here may be in the portrayals of the bad guys: Dinklage is drily hilarious and fun to hate as Bar Sinister, while Patrick "Putty" Warburton is at his squinty, blockheaded best as bumbling henchman Cad. Without this cranky odd couple, grown-ups in search of layered laughs would be better off escorting their preteen charges to The Simpsons Movie.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  Compared to the forthcoming Alvin and the Chipmunks movie—in which Jason Lee costars opposite three computer-generated singing rodents—this thing may wind up looking like Oscar bait.