Studio: Walt Disney Video
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Street Date: 18 December 2007
It would be easy to rag on the live-action cinematic adventures of “Underdog.” Starring Jason Lee as the voice of the titular protagonist and featuring a nigh incomprehensible story, dull protagonist, and a budget of wiz-bang special effects that in one shot eclipsed the entire budget of the original show, picking on “Underdog” is simple. So I’m going to take the high road and try to be positive about this mess.
The first positive I can say about “Underdog” is that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. Sure Jason Lee’s dialogue recitation was largely uninspired, save a few bits about dogs licking their butts. I lay the blame for this not entirely at Lee’s feet, instead holding culpable the writers who didn’t seem to understand what they wanted to do with “Underdog” and the director, who took a script that substituted a plot for a string of one-off jokes and subtle nods to longtime fans. The rhyming was quaint in the cartoon; it’s obnoxious and illogical in the film, seemingly forced in by the filmmakers to say, “See, we’re familiar with the source.” Then ignoring every bit of what made the original great. And I’m not even an Underdog fan.
The story of the cinematic underdog follows the exploits of an underwhelming police dog, an unnamed beagle who has a malfunctioning sniffer and no police instincts. After a particularly embarrassing encounter with the Mayor, the dog who would become a hero is kidnapped by henchman extraordinaire Cad (Patrick Warburton playing a 21st Century version of his Kronk from “The Emperor’s New Groove”). Cad secrets the pooch to a secret laboratory to satisfy the malevolent machinations of mad scientist Dr. Barsinister (Peter Dinklage), who is bent on creating the ultimate canine crimefighter. An accident results in Shoeshine being bathed in a host of chemicals which give him super strength, speed, the ability to communicate, and a host of other super powers.
In the realm of science fiction, I can accept odd animal testing. But the screenwriters have obviously no idea what DNA is or its scientific implications. There was a reason we never got Underdog’s origins in the cartoon; because it didn’t matter. Speaking metaphorically, this story is like using a cookie-cutter on pudding; the results are somewhat familiar, but so messy that you just don’t care.
But I’m trying to stay positive. On that note, I mention the supporting cast for the titular cape-laden protagonist. Lead by the young Alex Neuberger as Jack, the boy who adopts Shoeshine (one of many not-so-subtle and painfully-obviously, but largely useless references to the original cartoon). It’s rare that I get to say that Jim Belushi isn’t the worst part of something, however Neuberger’s inexperience and lack of direction result in uninspired line deliveries that inspire no passion, don’t speak to the character, and left me feeling cold.
Positive, Justin. Positive. Okay… Jason Lee. I love the actor in “My Name is Earl.” His narration there is packed with discernable character. Underdog sounds… well… like he was handed the script in a recording studio and asked to pound out the dialogue in one sitting. There isn’t a hint of energy, understanding of his surroundings, or interaction with his fellow actors.
Okay, I give up. There is very little good about Underdog. The effects are pretty, some of the jokes are funny, but it’s a boring movie, uninspired movie that limps forward through its thankfully short running time. The film is good for a rainy day when nothing else is on television, but is a painfully bad movie. Just skip it.
Okay, here the big guns come out. This is one of the worst modern transfers I have seen in years. Mosquito noise litters the transfer, the colors are pallid, and there is a lot of edge enhancement. The reason, I believe, it looks so troubled is the amount of information packed onto this disc: Three full-screen and two wide-screen presentations with 5.1 tracks in English, French, and Spanish.
The disc defaults to fullscreen, and accessing the 2.35:1 widescreen version is no simple task because it is improperly labeled. To achieve the original theatrical aspect ratio, you have to go into the set-up, then audio options where you will find the different video flavors.
The audio options are a lot more palpable than their video brothers, though nothing spectacular. The 5.1 Dolby Digital track has good separation between channels, with an excellent LFE push.
The single-disc set of Underdog has a surprising amount of extra features. There are three deleted scenes with optional commentary from the film’s director. The scenes are presented in Anamorphic widescreen, which is a welcome surprise. Especially since the film itself defaults to a matted 4:3 ratio.
A host of bloopers populate the set, too, which include fumbled lines and animals acting like animals.
“Sit, Stay, Act” is a in-character, behind-the-scenes look at the film from the perspective of the dog Shoeshine, as narrated by actor Jason Lee. There are branching features on the documentary that allows the viewer to “dig deeper” and get more detailed behind-the-scenes information.
“Underdog Raps” is a video by Kyle Massey for the Underdog Rap. It’s actually, surprisingly, not terrible. It is non Anamorphic, however. This set is so confusing.
“Safe Waif” is the first episode of the Underdog cartoon program. Itself a whole lot better than the entire film.
Not since “Broken Flowers” have I gotten so mad at a film for being bad. There was potential here, but the story is boring, the acting poor, and the tone off. The filmmakers claim reverence for the original film, but they don’t seem to understand the nature of the Underdog character. Just avoid this mess.