Other movies have made a concentrated effort to get under viewers' skinsIrreversible, The Brown Bunny, The Devil's Rejects, Caché, Elephant, Kill Billbut Disney's The Shaggy Dog may contain the single most disturbing image in recent years: Tim Allen licking Kristin Davis' face. Of course, it's supposed to be a funny expression of Allen's newfound canine instincts, a twist on the ol' peck-on-the-cheek before Allen heads off to work. Except that Allen and Davis look like they're only married because the casting director said so, and the image of his tongue raking her face is rendered all the more chilling by her robotic reaction, like a Stepford Wife whose circuitry has started to melt. Perhaps Patricia Richardson, Allen's earthy middle-aged spouse on TV's Home Improvement, could have taken such a licking without blinking an eye, but in Shaggy Dog, impressionable youngsters will witness something they can't unsee.
Dusting off a studio franchise that hasn't seen theaters for 30 years, The Shaggy Dog remains faithful to the Disney live-action tradition in that it's really bad, but will be remembered fondly in the future by adults nostalgic for their lost childhoods. (Mention Gus: The Field-Goal Kicking Mule or The World's Greatest Athlete and watch Gen-Xers swoon.) The creaky plot opens in Tibet, where corporate mercenaries working for a pharmaceutical company have tracked down a sheepdog that's supposedly 300 years old. Research executive Robert Downey, Jr. believes that his scientists can harness the dog's DNA, find the secret to its eternal youth, and release a life-extending pill. Meanwhile, Allen is representing the company in a lawsuit against a protester who accuses it of cruel animal testing. Through a convoluted set of circumstances, the dog bites Allen, and he starts either turning into a dog with a human conscience or a human with dog-like proclivities.
Okay, so when does the fun start? First, the film has to establish how Allen got to be a dog, which means the trip to Tibet, the animal-cruelty case setup, revelations about his neglectfulness as a husband and father, and the dog's underground-laboratory escape. Once he's a dog, of course, the screenwriters have to worry about how to change him back into a human, but only after he learns some lessons about why he shouldn't represent unscrupulous corporations or push his wimpy son into playing football. That leaves just a small window of opportunity for him to bark like he did every week on Home Improvement, scratch the imaginary fleas behind his ears, and lick his wife for the first time since their wedding night. On second thought, maybe the adults of tomorrow won't remember this movie that fondly.