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'Snow Dogs'

Friday, January 18, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Until I told them to just shut up, an outfit called the Sled Dog Action Coalition bombarded me with e-mails protesting the movie "Snow Dogs" for its romanticizing of Alaska's Iditarod race. The group condemns the competition for its "documented history of dog deaths, injuries and other cruelties."

 
 
'SNOW DOGS'

Rating: PG for mild crude humor.

Players: Cuba Gooding Jr., James Coburn

Director: Brian Levant

WEB SITE: disney.go.com/
snowdogs/

Critic's call:

   
 

I won't take issue with that, but it would help if they got all the facts straight. While the movie is "suggested by" a book about the Iditarod, "Snow Dogs" fabricates a competition called the Arctic Challenge that is clearly differentiated from the Iditarod. Disney claims it did so precisely because of the concerns raised by the coalition and other groups.

The Canadian Humane Society monitored the filming of the movie. Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character doesn't actually participate in the race.

Most important, the chief victim of the cruelty and humiliation in the film is not canine but human. Gooding takes more pratfalls than the Three Stooges, exhibits as much wide-eyed fear as a minstrel comic and puts up with the kind of derisive laughter usually reserved for caricatures of Disney executives in "Shrek."

Granted, unlike the dogs, Gooding had a choice. With this movie, he moves ahead of Gwyneth Paltrow and closes the gap on frontrunner Angelina Jolie as the Oscar winner who picks the worst subsequent roles.

The audience suffers, too. Sure, the movie is aimed at little kids, who might be amused by the silliness and the slapstick. Adults are more likely to wince, and not just from watching him fall flat on his back, again and again, onto snow and ice and outcroppings of rock.

Gooding whipsaws back and forth from comic bumbler to sentimental favorite as he goes to Alaska to search for the parents he never knew. The movie is not entirely without heart, but prefers to concentrate on the cheapest of belly laughs.

Gooding plays Ted Brooks, a Miami dentist who learns he was adopted when he is summoned to Alaska, where his birth mother lived, for the reading of her will. She had her own cozy little homestead amid the snow and mountains where she raised sled dogs to race in the Arctic Challenge.

Ted is anxious to return to the warmth of Miami when the local barmaid, Barb (the appealingly resolute Joanna Bacalso), tells him that his father is Thunder Jack (James Coburn, watchable even in movies like this), a grizzly old musher who reacts to Ted's entreaties by upping his offer to buy his mother's dogs. Determined to crack the old man's reserve, Ted resolves to tough it out in Alaska and learn to drive the dogsled, which regularly leads to disastrous results.

Like this movie.

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