Good Boy! wants to fetch your inner pooch.

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Good Boy!
Did you hear the one about the talking dog? Well, of course you did. If you've ever been to the movies or watched television, then you know that our otherwise silent four-legged friends almost invariably come to verbal life when the cameras roll. We've had horses (Mr. Ed), mules (Francis), and pigs (Babe), not to mention the mice, rabbits, and ducks found in the world of animated cartoons. True, Lassie and Rin Tin Tin held their tongues, but that's undoubtedly because the technical means of faking speech hadn't yet developed to the point we find in Good Boy!; where, instead of mundane "rescuing-Timmy-from-a-burning-barn" realism, we have doggies from another planet.

Yes, it's a "family film," of the sort we've become increasingly accustomed to these days: cute dogs for the kids to coo over and a plot just complex enough to keep the parents who've accompanied them to the theater from dozing off. But that's about all you can say for it -- outside of the fact that Good Boy! is without question the most elaborate and expensive talking-dog movie ever made.

Directed by John Hoffman from a script he co-wrote with Zeke Richardson, this tale of a preteen dog-walker named Owen (Liam Aiken), who discovers that the terrier he's taken home from the pound to be his very own is here on an interstellar mission of canine world conquest, may divert some six-year-olds. And their parents won't necessarily feel they've wasted eight bucks a head on the deal. As for anyone else, those interested in special-effects techniques -- particularly as related to sound editing -- might want to take a look at this. So might casting directors: Liam Aiken has Haley Joel Osment potential, even in a film as conceptually prefabricated as this one.

Little Owen is more than a little alienated from his parents (SNL alums Molly Shannon and Kevin Nealon), who buy and renovate houses only to sell them. The neighborhood he finds himself in, as our story begins, has become quite special to him -- for both its dog-walking possibilities (everything from your standard-issue "Nice Lonely Elderly Man" to your newly chic "Snazzy Young Gay Couple") and the fact that he's made a human friend (Brittany Moldowan, as the "Nice Little Girl Who Lives Across the Street"). Then a flying saucer lands, carrying the terrier who becomes our hero's best pal -- and who speaks with the voice of Matthew Broderick. Telling Owen of his mission, the chatty canine (whom Owen dubs "Hubbell") introduces him to the other dogs, who begin to speak with the voices of Delta Burke, Cheech Marin, Donald Faison, Brittany Murphy, and Carl Reiner. But that's not all, for the plot requires a visit from the extraterrestrial "leader of the pack," called "The Greater Dane." It possesses the voice of Vanessa Redgrave.

Gilding the lily is Mark Mothersbaugh's score, its witty homage to Bernard Herrmann's score for The Day the Earth Stood Still clearly indicating the fact that the desired Good Boy! viewer is a slightly jaded, slightly child-weary boomer parent. Yes, they could do worse -- and, considering what's coming out of Hollywood these days, probably will. But there's no point in saying anything more, really.

Hey -- it's a talking dog movie.

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