Last year Warner Brothers released “My Dog Skip,” one of the best canine flicks of recent years. (It ranks right up there with 1996’s charming “Shiloh.”) Now, apparently to restore the balance in the universe, the studio is offering one that’s equally awful. “See Spot Stink” would be a more appropriate title for this mangey mongrel of a movie.
“Spot” is a gross-out buddy comedy centered on a doofus mailman (David Arquette) who becomes pals not only with a super-smart government-agent pooch that’s run away from a witness protection program and is pursued by both mobsters out to kill him and his FBI partner, but also with a rubber-faced tyke (Angus T. Jones), the son of his dream girl, single mom Leslie Bibb (who’s off on a business trip and spends most of the movie trying desperately to get home and retrieve the kid from Arquette’s irresponsible hands). The trio, needless to say, get involved in a succession of slapstick situations and endless chases, alternating with long stretches of stickily sentimental bonding among man, child and dog. The big joke is that the mutt is brighter and more capable than the guy he teams with; the sad fact is that he’s a lot smarter than the writers (no fewer than five of them, headed by George Gallo, the perpetrator of the recent bomb “Double Take”), director John Whitesell (a TV veteran who stages the picture as the alternately frantic and syrupy sitcom it is) and the human stars, too. Simply put, the movie is pitched to the lowest possible level. There haven’t been this many violent pratfalls in a single picture since all those horrible John Hughes “Home Alone” clones, and the bonding between Arquette and Jones is so calculated and smarmy that it could provoke in viewers the same sort of violent stomach disorders from which the duo occasionally suffer themselves. As if that weren’t bad enough, the movie periodically features the vilest ethnic stereotypes (not only comic Italian mobsters but a shrieking Oriental taxi driver and a bulbous black sidekick for Arquette).
In fact, the whole movie is so flat and filled with dead spots (pun intended) and noxiously tasteless bits of business that the only way you can stay alert and sane is to try to gauge which performer embarrasses himself most grotesquely in it. Arquette’s certainly a strong contender: he’s humiliated endlessly, in sequences that force him to play “gotcha” with an assortment of pooches, dance like George Jefferson and E.T., spit out great gobs of bran flakes and prunes, and simulate being struck repeatedly by powerful electric charges. But whether Arquette is sufficiently sentient to feel actual embarrassment over all this is unclear. After all, this is the fellow who starred in “Ready to Rumble.” And he apparently wasn’t frightened off by a script which required him, at one particularly gruesome point, to roll about in dog-doo clad only in a wet undershirt and shout, “I’m covered in caca!” One would think a line like that might give an actor pause in taking a role, but not Arquette; he’s obviously beyond the possibility of embarrassment.
That leaves us with the large supporting cast. Bibb is in the running: she’s repeatedly splattered with mud and involved in one particularly hideous gag centered on a zebra’s flatulence (don’t ask)–pretty scary stuff. Then there’s Michael Clarke Duncan, as Spot’s partner, who blubbers at the thought of being separated from the canine and, at one point, must exhibit a literally frozen rictus of a smile. And we can’t forget Joe Viterelli and Steven R. Schirripa, as the inept mob hitmen who pursue the dog and, like a bargain-basement version of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, get clobbered in a series of slapstick confrontations with him. Or Anthony Anderson, who sputters and chortles endlessly as Arquette’s African-American postal pal and, in one memorable scene, does a painful split in an attempt to grab a five-dollar bill with his buttocks.
But despite all this powerful competition, the winner in the embarrassment sweepstakes is surely Paul Sorvino, the distinguished father of an Oscar winner no less, as the gangster who’s out to snuff the title mutt. Apart from having to play scenes in which he barks out orders to his minions, (in one memorable instance while stuffing himself with tortellini and gnocchi), Sorvino must endure being chomped by Spot in the most delicate area possible not once but twice–so that by the close he’s been surgically provided with a pair of ball bearings that clink as he saunters down a jail hallway and his voice has gone up several octaves, leaving him to sound like a counter-tenor at best (a strange fate for a guy who has actually aspired to become an opera singer). Everybody involved in “See Spot Run” comes off badly, but Sorvino is the most brutally demeaned.
We can close these dispiriting observations by noting that two characters each raise the same question at different points in this dismal movie, which is quite unconscionably aimed at a kiddie audience. “What’s that smell?” they inquire. Viewers who have the misfortune of stumbling into this “Spot” will certainly be able to provide the answer.