After a summer of colorful comic book/cartoon-style live-action movies aimed at teens and young adults, it's refreshing to find a caped crusader flick for smaller kids. The fact that it's based on a classic cartoon known for its low-budget animation and sharp wit, and features a flying beagle in a cape (always a plus), would seem to make for the perfect air-conditioned break during these dog days of summer.
Despite the title's innate self-deprecation, the concept has a lot going for it. The dog is adorable, the special effects are decent, and Jason Lee (TV's "My Name is Earl") does a charming job voicing the pooch. Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent, Lassie) stars as the evil Dr. Simon Barsinister, a scientist bent on creating genetically enhanced super-pooches so he can . . . well, that's never adequately explained. As Barsinister performs tests on a stray dog, a lab accident occurs, transforming the modest beagle into a superhero and disfiguring the scientist in the process, driving him mad and sending the diminutive actor on a scenery-chewing spree -- making Dinklage the best thing about the film. Rounding out the cast are Patrick Warburton (Puddy from "Seinfeld") who plays Cad, Barsinister's deluded henchman, Jim Belushi as Dan Unger, a former hero-cop trying to be a great single dad, and Amy Adams as the voice of Underdog's main squeeze, Polly.
While the concept is great and scenes featuring a sometimes terrific-looking CGI super-pet are a heck of a lot of fun, the movie drags a bit in between moments of canine superheroism. Still, Underdog is a real kid-pleaser -- it's just plain cool to watch a fairly realistic-looking pooch fly through the air, careen off walls, and beat up the bad guys. While maybe not the next big superhero franchise, Underdog is a fun-for-kids summer movie.
Parents take note:
Underdog is pretty safe for small kids, but Dr. Barsinister is, at times, a genuinely frightening villain. There's lots of peril and smaller kids will have a hard time watching a cute little doggie smash into walls or fall from space into a crater. There are also moments of inappropriate humor, though these may only register with the adults in the audience.