From the cold winter months filled with lackluster films comes a surprisingly warm and endearing story of snow dogs, and, well, Paul Walker. And thank God for us, Cuba Gooding Jr. is no where to be seen. Set in Antarctica at a research station, Paul Walker, Jason Biggs and company are forced to abandon their beloved snow dogs when physical ailments and a winter storm leave them little choice. Why they could not have just thrown the dogs in the back of the plane, I'm not quite sure, but fortunately for us, the dogs are left for dead (after rescue attempts were deemed out of the question) and a 175-day saga of survival ensues.
I am pretty adamant in the belief that if you can't make a good movie with cute dogs, you probably can't make a good movie. Thankfully, Frank Marshall delivers an entertaining and engaging story that successfully navigates towards its predictable, but loveable ending. Sometimes simple is good. Marshall knows that the audience is not here to see a slow, contemplative Jarmusch-like film (Broken Flowers is great by the way). We want to see dogs running on snow and facing off against the biggest leopard seal in the known world. It was really big. And we definitely want to see more of Maya, Old Jack, Dewey, Truman and company than of Paul Walker and his entourage.
And indeed, the dogs are the stars of the film, as we see them trying to survive in one of the most barren and coldest environments on earth. Credit should be given to Marshall (and the trainers) for creating great interactions between the dogs, which never become too corny or melodramatic. The deaths of a number (I won't say) of the dogs were also handled with a lot of tact. There are movies where audiences become emotionally detached from the film after the death of an animal is handled incorrectly. This is not one of them.
With the humans, Paul Walker and Jason Biggs make a funny, likeable duo, while veteran actor Bruce Greenwood solidifies the cast. Relatively unknown Moon Bloodgood also delivers a fine performance, one that might bring a few more guys into the audience. Walker, who is about as likely to win an Oscar as Gilbert Gottfried, once again seems to work well in the role. Kudos to him for continuously picking parts (i.e. Joy Ride, Into the Blue) that rely more on his screen presence than his acting ability (although I hear he is quite good in Running Scared). Nevertheless, it did bug me a bit that it took him 175 days to get back to Antarctica. Man, he was really banking on those dogs' survival skills. Every scene with him back in the U.S. begs the question; couldn't he have done something faster if he just stayed in New Zealand? Probably not, but by day 150 or so, it really annoyed me watching him teach kayak lessons, while the dogs were surviving by catching birds and eating whale carcass. Oh well.
Marshall, who is still high in my book after directing Arachnophobia (Jeff Daniels + killer spiders = good combo), has created an enjoyable family film, that, while predictable, still has enough snow dog action and attractive young people to make it worth a watch.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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