- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

“Good Boy!” sustains a slight but agreeable element of whimsy while trifling with the pretext of “E.T.”

Here, the child-loves-extraterrestrial fable is altered to child-loves-stray mutt who turns out to be an extraterrestrial. While making a frequently awkward feature debut that depends a great deal on trick shots and animal trainers, writer-director John Hoffman wisely invests sentimental credibility in the juvenile actor Liam Aiken, cast as an only child named Owen. The young protagonist has been promised his own pet after a summer of diligent dog-walking in his suburban neighborhood — never specified but doubled by Vancouver, Canada.

A pensive and wistful presence, young Liam, now 13, seems to authenticate everything sweet-natured and credulous about the conception. He makes it easy to believe that this particular youngster would be an invaluable companion for a talking dog who finds himself in a fix.

Nabbed by a dogcatcher and rescued from the local pound, the infiltrator is a border terrier nicknamed Hubble. After being sprung from custody, he needs to outsmart his mission: reporting back to a home planet, the “dog star” Sirius, which supposedly colonized the Earth with canines and suspects that they have failed to become the dominant species after a more than generous allowance of time.

There’s a humorous elation in watching animal stunts pay off. “Good Boy!” has at least two slapstick triumphs of dog pantomime: Hubble “playing dead” and another dog taking a dive into a backyard swimming pool. The photo-realistic finesse of these moments is diminished by the movie’s dependence on the babble of talking pets, whose slangy sitcom exchanges quickly grow disillusioning.

Mr. Hoffman also proves such a bumbler with chase scenes and token characterizations that you could easily jump to the conclusion that the director is as overmatched as the boy and the dog. And less resourceful. He seems to shortchange Owen’s parents, played by “Saturday Night Live” veterans Molly Shannon and Kevin Nealon, after introducing them as promising eccentrics. They renovate houses in order to resell them, and this form of domestic upward mobility has left their boy feeling essentially homeless.

“Good Boy!” would be a lost cause without its exceptionally good boy actor.

**

TITLE: “Good Boy!”

RATING: PG (Fleeting comic vulgarity)

CREDITS: Written and directed by John Hoffman. Based on “Dogs From Outer Space” by Zeke Richardson. Cinematography by James Glennon.

RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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