There’s no need to fear! Underdog is here! In the voice persona of Earl Hickey (Jason Lee), that is. If I wanted to listen to an extended canine impersonation of the title character from “My Name is Earl”–and I don’t–I would simply turn on the TV. There really is no difference, except for maybe that the actual dog (three dogs, really) cast in the Underdog role is a better actor. In fact, as I think about it, all the dogs cast in the movie are better actors than their human counterparts. Some of this may be due to the writing, the direction, and so on.
Underdog, with its emphasis on mad scientists, a strained relationship between a teen and his struggling dad, awkward parallel love-stories between a boy and a girl and the boy’s dog and the girl’s dog, an overbearing and incompetent police chief, and a full cast of one-dimensional characters cut and pasted from the pages of the comic strip onto the silver screen, resonates with a predictability that borders on imitation of its much better theatrical predecessors.
First, the obvious borrowing from the Superman franchise is pervasive. There is the lady dog who pines for Underdog with his cape and hood, but cannot recognize him without the aforementioned attire. Imagine Lois Lane pining for Superman while Clark Kent stares her in the face. Then there is the scene of Underdog tearing through the sky. People cry out, “It’s a bird! No, it’s a plane! It’s a frog!” And Underdog replies, “No, it’s Underdog!” I suppose the writers felt the frog comment would help with the rhyme factor. Or not. Of course we cannot forget the scene of Underdog flying the lady dog through the air, wooing her and impressing her.
Then there is the similarity to Spiderman, with Underdog’s shoot from the hip wise-cracking attitude toward the bad guys. Near the end it becomes sort of a Batmanesque free-for-all of superheroes as three German Shepherds and even the evil villain Dr. Simon Barsinister partake of the serum which empowers them to have the same powers as Underdog.
Some people will be bothered by the movie trailer which says, “One nation Underdog,” an obvious play on the USA’s revered motto. The script provides a reasonable explanation for the superhero dog’s name. But I will not devulge it.
I wish I had simply left well enough alone by watching the two minute trailer and imagining all the fun that could have been had with this character. But no, I had to go and watch it, groaning in disappointment as Earl, erm I mean Underdog, narrated the plodding script to its painfully obvious conclusion. I found myself wishing he would simply cross the movie off his list and roll the credits. The outtakes were the only thing worth waiting for.
The movie is rated PG for assorted potty humor, language and comic violence. For parents, if you wish to impress upon your young children some memorable naughty one liners so that they also can engage in witty reparte sure to earn them a raised eyebrow and maybe even a timeout from their Sunday School Teachers, then this is the movie for you. But, if you would rather preserve their innocence just a little while longer, I recommend checking out something along the lines of Veggie Tales or one of the many other wholesome and entertaining movies available at the store. Better yet, go out with the family and have a picnic. Bring the dog with you, if you have one. Pretend he is underdog. Just don’t dress him in a cape. We wouldn’t want the neighborhood felines to mock him would we?