Snow Dogs

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Snow Dogs

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Snow Dogs

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Since winning the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for 1996's Jerry Maguire, Cuba Gooding Jr. has exercised consistently awful professional judgment. From the smarmy uplift of Instinct to Chill Factor, which cast him and Skeet Ulrich as losers on an explosives-rigged ice-cream truck, Gooding's career is littered with titles that sound like movies a satirical screenwriter might invent to exemplify high-concept stupidity. Extending that run, Disney's Snow Dogs casts Gooding as an affable Miami dentist who learns that he's adopted and travels to Alaska to collect his inheritance. Once there, he quickly befriends a pretty Native American barmaid, inherits a pack of cantankerous canines, and learns that his biological father is a grizzled mountain man (James Coburn) so feared and respected that even the town's two token crazy-haired counter-cultural types speak of him in hushed, reverent tones. Motivated equally by curiosity and stubbornness, Gooding hunkers down in town and sets about training his late mother's dogs, which involves countless snow- and dog-related humiliations, including many minor variations on Gooding mugging wildly while falling down. An amiable but forgettable blend of fish-out-of-water comedy, slapstick romp, and sports film, Snow Dogs features the obligatory climactic competition, but to his credit, pooch-minded auteur Brian Levant (Beethoven) seems far less interested in the outcome than in the relationship between his Oscar-winning leads. Leading a cast filled with the dependable likes of Brian Doyle-Murray and M. Emmet Walsh, as well as cartwheel-happy R&B pixie Sisqó, Gooding is an appealing leading man (though a fairly inept physical comedian), and Coburn's agreeably crusty and unsentimental performance complements him nicely. Snow Dogs never comes close to transcending its own inherent silliness, but Coburn, Gooding, and a genial tone help make the movie harmless tomfoolery the whole family can tolerate.

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