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Movie Review

When Miami-based dentist/entrepreneur Ted Brooks discovers he’s actually adopted and that his birth mother has died and left him an inheritance, he heads for her hometown of Tolketna, Alaska. He figures it can’t hurt to discover his roots and more about himself in the process. Once there, he finds Mom has bequeathed to him a team of sled dogs. Having no real interest in canines (an earlier Miami scene finds the dentist pouring water over a barking pooch), he makes arrangements to sell them along with the rest of his newly acquired possessions.

Only one thing remains enticing in this strange and unfamiliar environment: a woman named Barb, the proprietor of the town’s watering hole and meeting place. His attraction is returned in kind seeing as how he stands out among a preponderance of local guys who are "misfits and weirdos." But the two seem fated to never get to really know each other until Barb agrees to reveal the identity of Ted’s biological father—musher and town tough guy, Thunder Jack. To prove himself to his new-found dad, Ted decides to take up dog sledding. Thunder Jack is not impressed. But when Ted braves the elements and dogsleds through a storm to save the old man, the two might possibly bond. Will they? Will Ted and Barb make it to the alter? And will Ted be willing to abandon his well-heeled Miami lifestyle for the backwoods of Tolketna? Only the snow dogs know.

positive elements: Ted Brooks is an all-around good guy. His adoptive mother describes him as a man who "wouldn’t say a bad thing about anyone." She’s right. What’s more, it’s because of his adoptive parents that he’s turned out so nice. Mom is a caring, loving individual who bakes cookies for the patients of her son’s dental practice (something Ted lovingly rebukes). And Dad—shown in a flashback scene 25 years prior—cares enough to make sure Ted learns about his dentistry practice. Ted refers to him as a "great father." Clearly, adoption is portrayed as something positive.

Racial differences are never an issue. Neither are bi-racial marriages (Ted’s mother was black, his father Caucasian). Tolketna is home to a bizarre mix of folk—everyone from ear-pierced spike-hairs to mountain men. But no matter what the look, all are valued and accepted (especially by film’s end). Father and son eventually bond, but as a dad, Coburn’s character is simply unbelievable. He’s way too over the top in his I’m-not-interested-in-you-even-though-you’re-my-son role. So much so that later lines of "I’m proud of you" seem contrived and phony.

There’s no sex. No profanity. And the violence is primarily slapstick. Tolketna is described as a town with "no crime, no traffic here"—making backwoods living seem preferable to the big city rat race. It’s also a place where Ted "can think about the big questions."

One other thing bears mentioning. Although abortion is never mentioned, viewers learn that Ted’s biological mother and father had all the classic reasons for choosing one but didn’t ("Lucy wanted to bring you into this world, but we weren’t ready [to be parents]).

spiritual content: In the reading of Lucy Watkin’s will (Ted’s biological mother), it’s obvious she was not spiritually grounded, even purporting that hell could be a better place to live than Alaska ("At least it’s warm if I end up down below.") Sled dog leader Demon is described as "possessed." Elsewhere, Ted’s adoptive mother says she survived 14 hours of flight by praying.

sexual content: Nothing explicit. However, numerous women, including Barb (in a dream sequence), wear skimpy bikinis at the beach. Ted learns he was conceived in what amounts to a very casual sexual encounter. Riding on the back of a snowmobile driven by Barb, Ted becomes frozen with his arms around her. "I’m not being frisky, I’m stuck," he exclaims as he excuses himself. Following a romantic scene around a campfire, the camera pans across Ted the next morning as he asks, "How did you sleep?" Instead of Barb by his side, however, it’s his Australian shepherd, Nana.

violent content: In her Tolketna bar, Barb angrily throws a knife at a patron who has been involved in a game of knife-pitching himself. "Oh, a little high," she exclaims after missing his head. Later, she kick-boxes a guy who attempts to use her facility’s restroom. Demon destroys Ted’s down coat (with Ted wearing it) and sends feathers flying. Thunder Jack punches Ted, knocking him out after the pair loudly argue at their first meeting. The dogsledding canines conspire against Ted and drag him through the snow. A skunk sprays Ted in a car (squirts would be more accurate). One humorous "violent" scene plays off the familiar let’s-pour-water-on-the-coach. But the water (or Gatorade) is frozen and the block of ice knocks the winning musher unconscious.

crude or profane language: Someone exclaims, "My Lord." And when a dog urinates on a tree, a character responds, "I hope your peepee freezes up."

drug and alcohol content: There’s quite a bit of drinking. Not only does Barb run a bar, but patrons are portrayed as regular drinkers. Even a dog laps the froth off a beer. In the background of one bar scene, a drunk is sleeping it off. Thunder Jack has a flask of liquor on him regularly and is once shown drunk. Later, however, he does wind up facing some consequences for his intoxication. Misrepresenting his liquor as "soup," he gets Ted to take a swig on one occassion, but Ted spits it out. The reading of Lucy Watkin’s will begins with, "Pour a round of Wild Turkey on me" (everyone seems way too excited about the free booze).

other negative elements: A young Ted vomits after seeing the rotting teeth of one of his father’s patients. When Ted confronts Thunder Jack about being his father, Jack calls the news "ancient history." The scene is supposed to set up a touching reunion later in the movie, but what it really does is present a character in such a manner that it’s difficult to see him as anything but a real jerk.

conclusion: If Snow Dogs is supposed to be heart-warming and funny, it’s barking up the wrong tree. The scheme? Take two quality actors (Gooding, Coburn) and hope their talents will salvage a less-than-mediocre script. They can’t. From a family point of view, fortunately, objectionable material is infrequent and relatively minor. But an avalanche of sub-par lines and scenes, and supporting characters devoid of likability leave viewers out in the cold.

Did I mention that the dogs don’t talk? Television previews showing talking dogs were extracted from one brief part of a dream. Don’t be snowed by the trailer. Don’t be snowed by the movie. I, for one, can only hope the Snow Dogs litter stays at one.

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Cuba Gooding Jr. as Ted Brooks, James Coburn as Thunder Jack, Joanna Bacalso as Barb, Nichelle Nichols as Amelia Brooks and Sisqo as Rupert


Brian Levant ( )




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