Upon it’s release Underdog came in for quite the kicking with fans of the original cartoon series complaining that it no longer worked as a parody of Superman and other similar superheroes, and anyone looking for some good clean family fun were frustrated by a film with a very basic story, a strange romantic subplot between two of the canine cast, and some very on the nose moralising about the importance of family.
I’m sure they’re probably right too, this is technically not a great movie by any means. But it is one I found enjoyable just because it’s such an odd mix, a quite unique combination that doesn’t really work as a cohesive whole but is quite the romp as after being covered in various chemicals in a lab accident our doggy hero develops superpowers. Owner of the lab Simon (Peter Dinklage) and his sidekick (Patrick Warburton) are desperate to track the mutt down and steal his abilities, but given he can fly and kick arse it’s more than a little difficult.
As well as all of this Jim Belushi gives it his all as cop Dan who brutally murders Underdog, well, he runs him over but luckily for all involved Underdog is unhurt thanks to his new powers, and then Dan takes him home in the hope that it’ll make his son Jack like him again. Initially unimpressed when Jack finds out that Underdog (aka Shoeshine) has amazing powers and can speak English he bonds with the animal, and school friend Polly has a dog, Molly, that Underdog really wants to fuck, and though she has no interest in his Clark Kent-esque every day appearance she’s all kinds of frisky for the super version.
The action scenes are well orchestrated and the cgi largely decent, and though it has a script which is often predictable and occasionally leans in to crude humour, it’s also sometimes surreal, like when Underdog flirts with Polly by saying “You smell wonderful, like a half eaten pig’s ear”. From the writer of the sublime Giuseppe Makes A Movie and the er, less than sublime Dawn Of Sex, Adam Rifkin’s somewhat hard to pin down, sometimes creating amazing work and sometimes not and examples of both are found here.
Peter Dinklage is a lot more fun as the villain than he was in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Patrick Warburton’s reliably great too as he’s a sidekick who’s trying to educate himself with a burned up thesaurus that now only has P words, in a running gag which gets better and better as the film goes on. Belushi does his best with some tedious scenes between him and his son, and Jason Lee as the voice of a talking superhero dog is better than you’d expect him to be.
There’s a number of other running jokes in the movie which often work, Underdog’s insistence in rhyming is awful but at the same time amusing, while the manner in which he keeps ending up in various costumes is funny and adorable, and even a cameo from Jay Leno doesn’t ruin it. It’s by no means an underrated gem and the occasionally weak or off joke disappoints, with Underdog in China being annoyingly racist, and this is a very daft movie and one best suited for a young audience or anyone who likes to watch silly movies, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun than 95% of the DC Superhero films