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Have no fear, Underdog's here again. Too bad our brave Beagle's bid to take a big bite out of crime is strictly for kids who think the Garfield movies are the cat's meow.


Look in the sky. It's a plane. It's a bird. It's a frog. No, it's just little old Underdog, or as his young master so aptly calls him, "Superman with a flea collar." In Disney's live-action version of the 1960s animated superhero parody, the canine crimebuster (voiced by Jason Lee) returns to nip at the heels of arch nemesis Simon Barsinister (Peter Dinklage). Unlike the cartoon Underdog, who took on human characteristics, this pooch keeps all four paws on the ground, Except, of course, when he's zooming off to save the day. And it's all thanks to the mad scientist Barsinister that Shoeshine—Underdog's secret identity—runs as fast as a cheetah and flies like an eagle. Shoeshine turns into the Mutt of Steel after coming into contact with a serum created by Barsinister. His transformation from zero to superhero leaves Barsinister desperate to replicate the results of this lab accident for typically evil purposes. Assuming, that is, he can get his hands on Shoeshine, who's already found refuge in the Capitol City home of an ex-cop (Jim Belushi) and his son Jack (Alex Neuberger). With Jack's help, Shoeshine finds his true calling as man's best super-powered friend. Oh, and when he's not thwarting jewelry heists, he's trying to win the heart of his very own Lois Lane, "Sweet" Polly Purebred (voiced by Amy Adams). But Underdog must set aside his feelings for the King Charles spaniel when Barsinister and his dimwitted henchman Cad (Patrick Warburton) attempt to extort $1 billion from Capitol City. Let the dogfight begin!


How wise of Disney not to unleash a computer-generated Underdog à la Garfield or Scooby-Doo. In or out of his formfitting superhero costume, Leo the Lemon Beagle deserves a big juicy bone for his energy and resourcefulness. It certainly helps that director Frederik Du Chau knows how to work with animals, having previously directed Racing Stripes. Beware, though: Leo's so darn cute that your kids will beg you for a Beagle for Christmas. Jason Lee, who crosses over to the side of good after voicing The Incredibles' malevolence Syndrome, makes Underdog as humble and affable as his TV alter ego Earl Hickey from My Name is Earl. Still, there are times that Lee's so laidback with his narration you'll swear you're watching an episode of My Name is Underdog. Amy Adams, delightfully kooky in Junebug, makes for a surprisingly bland Polly. Brad Garrett, though, makes sure the bullying Rottweiler Riff Raff's booming bark is worse than his bite. As for the humans, K-9's Jim Belushi is once again upstaged by a canine costar and Alex Neuberger does nothing to suggest he's got what it takes to be the next tween heartthrob. Disheveled and disfigured, Peter Dinklage is suitably hammy as the maniacal man of science. A bleach-blonde Patrick Warburton continues to exploit his Seinfeld fame by playing yet another Puddy-like himbo, even though this act lost its novelty many dog years ago.


Superheroed out? Then it's certainly not enough for director Frederik Du Chau to make us believe a dog can fly. That said, this Underdog is more for pups than parents. If your child's never seen an episode of Underdog, they'll certainly get a kick out of the obvious efforts to spoof Superman, from our hero's phone-booth costume changes to his struggle to retain his secret identity. Du Chau doesn't show much imagination when it comes to chronicling Underdog's pursuit of truth, justice and the American Kennel Club's Way, but at least he gives the predictable proceedings some oomph. He also keeps the poop jokes to a bare minimum, and avoids making the kind of sexual innuendos that ruined The Cat in the Hat, ensuring this four-legged superhero offers nothing but good, clean fun for kids who have grown tired of Ratatouille. Parents, though, may find themselves wishing they were watching Spider-Man 3 again. Underdog makes no effort to appeal to anyone who isn't suffering from a severe case of arrested development. Sure, those weaned on the cartoon should come away mightily impressed with Underdog's efforts to stay as true to its source material as possible. But there are only so many times you want to hear Underdog rhyme while he fights all who rob and plunder. Kids, though, will certainly walk out of the theater singing the beefed-up theme song and rooting for Underdog to save another day.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 stars.