Movie Review: Snow Dogs
By Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune Staff Writer
In Jack London's classic short story "To Build a Fire," the writer's frostbitten protagonist pits his grit against the Yukon wilderness, desperate to light the spark that will save his life and enable him to make it home.
Had the Disney movie "Snow Dogs" been waiting for him in civilization, he might not have bothered.
Cuba Gooding Jr. slums it here, getting his name above the title in exchange for getting dragged through the snow, sprayed by a skunk, chased by a bear and punched out by James Coburn.
When Miami dentist Ted Brooks (Gooding) receives a court summons, he gets sent into a tailspin after learning that: 1) he's adopted; and 2) his birth mother recently died. As the principal benefactor of her simple Alaskan estate, Ted travels north to "find himself" and learn what he can about his birth parents.
Misleading trailers may have led some to believe that "Snow Dogs" was a slapstick comedy about digitally enhanced, wisecracking sled dogs with celebrity voices who torment city slicker Ted. While this is partly true, the dogs themselves do not speak (except in a single dream sequence) and are digitally enhanced only for the occasional facial expression.
But a deceptive ad campaign is the least of "Snow Dogs" sins.
The film's assumptions about race are outdated and borderline offensive. Not only does Gooding's character assume (wrongly) that the only other African-American man in small-town Alaska is his father, but when he finds out that his pa is a "white dude," both he and his adoptive mother (Nichelle Nichols) nearly faint. Of course, says his mother, this explains your love of Michael Bolton music (groan).
What Faustian bargain did Gooding make, forcing him to star in this insipid fish-out-of-water comedy that paints him as a Bolton fan? (And did Bolton bribe someone in order to make a cameo appearance in which he says, "It doesn't matter what color you are, everyone can have soul"?)
Five different screenwriters get credit for this predictable comedy from director Brian Levant ("The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas"). Amiable Gooding still smiles through it all, weathering the cold, physical abuse and implied racism, doing his best to make his audience believe that "Snow Dogs" isn't offensive mush. But he can't bring it off.
Directed by Brian Levant; written by Jim Kouf and Tommy Swerdlow & Michael Goldberg and Mark Gibson & Philip Halprin; photographed by Thomas Ackerman; edited by Roger Bondelli; production design by Stephen Lineweaver; produced by Jordan Kerner; A Walt Disney Pictures release; opens Friday, Jan. 18. Running time: 1:39. MPAA rating: PG (mild crude humor).
Ted Cuba Gooding Jr.
Thunder Jack James Coburn
Dr. Rupert Brooks Sisqo
Amelia Nichelle Nichols
George Graham Greene