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'See Spot Run'

'See Spot Run' ... See Spot Flop

Friday, March 02, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

The FBI has gone to the dogs in general, to Agent 11 of its canine corps in particular. Mailman Gordon goes to the dogs daily on his delivery route in a suburban Seattle pooch-alley-from-hell and prides himself on being able to handle any aggressive canine behavior, well-armed with an arsenal of doggie-defense gadgets.

'See Spot Run'

RATING: PG for crude humor and comic violence

STARRING: David Arquette, Michael Clarke Duncan, Leslie Bibb, AngusJones, Paul Sorvino, Joe Vieterelli

DIRECTOR: John Whitesell




Seems that Gordon (David Arquette) was abandoned in a mailbox as a baby, and now -- as a postal worker -- all dogs have his stamp of disapproval. But across town, local mobster Sonny (Paul Sorvino) suffers a drug bust at the paws of Agent 11, who nails him where it hurts the most, chomping off half of his manhood. "You only need one," says a doctor -- as parents in the audience glance at their kids and wince. Sonny puts out a contract on the dog.

Gordon, meanwhile, finds himself baby-sitting James (Angus Jones), the fatherless 6-year-old son of his would-be girlfriend (Leslie Bibb). Little Orphan Angus is allowed no pets, sugar or unsupervised time.

Thus far, there is more deathly silence than laughter in the theater, until Gordon spits out James' breakfast (organic cereal with prunes) and says, "Let me tell you about this man I know -- his name is Cap'n Crunch." The boy's resulting sugar-high rush produces mayhem. But the kids don't really belly-laugh until Gordon falls in doggie poo and bemoans being "covered in caca."

The dog itself? Agent 11 is a 100-pound bull mastiff imported from England for this role (following a bit part in "102 Dalmatians"). As No. 1 on the mob's hit list, he is sent to a Canine Witness Protection Program in the Yukon, to the chagrin of his FBI handler (Michael Clarke Duncan of "The Green Mile") but escapes en route and ducks for cover into Gordon's mail truck, where little James names him Spot and falls in love with him.

Jones and Arquette (of "Never Been Kissed," "Scream 2 & 3" and the current "3,000 Miles to Graceland") are charmers, surviving a pet-store high jinks scene in which Arquette ends up with a fish aquarium on his head, sea urchins on his derriere, and inflated bubble wrap around him like Woody Allen in "Sleeper."

Bibb's time is spent as the victim of an running-gag series of mud baths. Steven Schirripa and droopy-eyed Joe Vieterelli ("Analyze This") do cliched turns as the mobsters, as does Sorvino, who told an interviewer, "The trick is not to be a buffoon as you play a buffoonish character."

The trick eludes him. The whole silly slapstick mob subplot should have been done away with in favor of the sweet, gentle melodrama involving Gordon, James and Spot -- all three of whom are trying to learn how to have fun.

Video director John Whitesell (episodes of "Law & Order," "Roseanne," "Coach," etc.) is "the guy you go after when you want to get your pilot on the air," says producer Robert Simonds.

Rhetorical question: When will Hollywood honchos realize the difference between a TV pilot and a feature film?

Rhetorical answer: When the box-office bottom line forces them to.

The deadpan dog here rarely moves. He's the Buster Keaton of canines. No animals were harmed in the making of this film, we are assured -- but the same cannot be said for its actors' reputations. In the end, "See Spot Run" suffers from a lack of animal as well as human magnetism.

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