Canine Capers

Cuba Goding Jr. is funny, but the rest of this movie falls flat.

"Snow Dogs"?! Disney must have run dry of telling titles! I almost passed this one off as a casual canine caper, not entirely ruling out allusions to the redoubtable Animal Planet.

This is not a film about dogs. Ok, there are more here than anything after "Beethoven", but they are not the ones with bark to brag. That's taken over by Cuba Gooding Jr., who plays Dr. Ted Brooks, a Miami dentist.

Ted Brooks is African American. He's got a perfectly-rigged orthodontic setup by the beachfront, and he's making big money, with his cousin Dr. Rupert Brooks (Recording artist "Sisqo", as a very dubious dentist) and mum Amelia (Nichelle Nichols from "Star Trek") at the vanguard. He's all smug and smiling until one damned day, when he receives a letter from Alaska, Canada, telling him about an estate that's been bequeathed to him by an anonymous lady named Lucy.

"Who's Lucy?" he asks. "Your mother", says Amelia. The truth takes him by surprise; he's the adopted son of his Miami parents, while his true identity lies somewhere among the mountain bears up north. "Well, that's where I'm heading" he decides. So that's where he heads, all geared to weather the wind and kill the cold, to a town called Tolketna.

Cuba kicks as funny man Brooks, who's experiencing everything like never before, from falling temperatures to failing tempers. He meets the townspeople, is smitten with Barb (Joanna Bacalso), owner of the town bar, visits the house of his birth mother, and encounters a bear of a man, Thunder Jack (James Coburn), who is as pleasant as a wolf on skis.

And the dogs - seven Siberian Huskies and one collie make a pack of pooches that are out to torment the nice young doctor. Brooks eventually tames the beasts, which have been trained to mush (a dog-and-sled version of tobogganing), and, along with varied versions of advice from the well-meaning townsfolk, takes to the slopes.

It's a funny film that sees Cuba cavorting down slopes, skidding on ice, swinging to Michael Bolton, and readily recounting a range of emotions that makes him completely infectious. Brian Levant, director of the St. Bernard-ridden "Beethoven", has proven his skills with the canine contingent, personifying the dogs with dialogue, along with endowing them with extraordinary physiognomic qualities.

In "Snow Dogs", Levant has collaborated with producer Jordan Kerner of "Mighty Ducks" to bring out a good film that has plenty of snow and a larger dose of dog. Worth a look!

This article was first published on 20 Jun 2002.