In Finn on the Fly, a dog is turned into a man who barks, slurps from the toilet, chases squirrels and treats the backyard like a fire hydrant.
If that sounds about as appetizing as a bag of kibble, this Canadian-made comedy is actually a breed above -- too sweet and well-intended to qualify as much of a critic's chew toy. (For one thing it keeps the gross-out humour -- oh how Rob Schneider would have humped this material's leg -- to a minimum.) But it's also strictly kids' stuff: Recommended for children under 10 and parents who don't want their kids exposed to anything more corrupting than adorable boy-and-his-dog cliches. If that passes for praise, then you can blurb me on that.
Matthew Knight stars as Ben, a shy 13-year-old recently transplanted to a new city and school. His only real friend is Finn, a hyper-intelligent border collie who catches Frisbees, unhooks fence gates and proves himself a star among the neighbourhood mutts. But when he sneaks into the basement of Dr. Madeline Madsen (former Saturday Night Live cast member Ana Gasteyer), the mad scientist who lives next door, he accidentally laps up a potion that transforms him from a canine into Calgary-born comic Ryan Belleville.
It doesn't take long for Madeline to figure out what happened -- or for her to conspire to capture Finn for her own nefarious purposes. In the meantime, Ben is happily bonding with his new best pal who has learned to speak English with startling speed. That in turn helps Finn teach Ben a thing or two about how to run with a pack, get the girl and form lasting friendships.
More troublesome are the performances. Belleville, while likeable, fails to attain orbit in a part that demands unleashed physicality; try as he might, or as odd as it sounds, it never seems like more than a guy pretending to be a dog. (He fares better the more human and consequently self-aware Finn becomes. Global warming? Unemployment? Suddenly it's not a dog's life anymore.)
By contrast, Gasteyer overplays everything to the hilt, zany for the sake of zaniness. Poop bag, please.
(This film is rated PG)