Dudley Do-Right (1999)
Directed by Hugh Wilson
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker, Alfred Molina, Eric Idle, Robert Prosky, Alex Rocco, Regis Philbin, Kathie Lee Gifford.
1999 75 minutes
Rated: (for cartoonish violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 28, 1999.
"From the director who saw 'George of the Jungle,'" touts the ads for Universal's live-action remake of the old cartoon, "Dudley Do-Right." At least they aren't afraid to admit it, as "Dudley Do-Right," which features Brendan Fraser in the title role, is almost a carbon copy of that 1997 hit, right up to the jokey narration (by Corey Burton) over many of the scenes. While I wasn't one of the supporters of "George of the Jungle," it at least felt like a full-length movie, while the 75-minute "Dudley Do-Right" is so fast-paced and determined to push on to the next scene that it never stops long enough for you to even grow attached to, or involved in, the characters. You're obviously supposed to root for Dudley to triumph, but his character remains nothing more than a clumsy, accident-prone doofus.
The simple story goes like this: Dudley Do-Right is a Canadian Mountie for a quaint town who must stop his nemesis, Snidely Whiplash (Alfred Molina), from stealing his main squeeze, the sprightly Nell (Sarah Jessica Parker), and turning Semi-Happy Valley into Whiplash City through an elaborate gold hoax. To tell the truth, there's not much more to it than that. Through his fight to win Nell over and stop the dastardly villain, Snidely, Dudley is always falling off of his office chair, stepping on loose floor boards that fly up and hit him in the face, and accidentally smashing through windows. His loyal horse, named Horse, is always breaking the wind and sticking out his tongue at Dudley, and in a goofy dream sequence, played to the song, "Reunited," Dudley runs up a large hill to Horse and lovingly hugs him as they are--yep--reunited. As I said before, there's not much story to speak of.
"Dudley Do-Right" is an ideal example of a movie that is perfectly cast, but otherwise is a wasted opportunity that has forgotten about its story, written by Wilson. It even skips right over its trademark plot point, of Nell being tied to the railroad tracks by Snidely as a train is coming towards her. Since this would be politically incorrect (insert rolling of eyes here), we get a similar scene early on with a banker, and an overblown, creatively bankrupt climax that features motorcycle and speedboat chases. I don't recall speedboats ever appearing prominently in the cartoon, but why question such things when most of today's family films show no interest in quality entertainment for children (just look at the easily inferior "Inspector Gadget"). It is only when parents show contempt for what their children watch ("Gadget" has made approximately $85-million to date!) that studios, most notably Disney, will start making smart live-action family films.
As already mentioned, the cast couldn't get any better than this, and the three principles are so very right for their roles that it's almost scary. Brendan Fraser, I'm afraid, should branch out a little bit more, as I fear he is beginning to make the same types of films over and over again, such as blockbusters (1999's "The Mummy"), children movies based on cartoons, and "fish-out-of-water" comedies (1992's "Encino Man," 1999's "Blast From the Past"). My advice for him is to go back to making more challenging work, such as 1992's "School Ties" and 1998's "Gods & Monsters," rather than taking on roles that are so familiar he could sleepwalk through them. Alfred Molina, clearly having a lot of fun, is outstanding as Snidely Whiplash, capturing the exact physical look and speech of his animated counterpart. Sarah Jessica Parker is appropriately innocent as Nell, but for someone who is characterized as being very intelligent, she's fairly stupid, particularly in being smitten by Snidely. Finally, Eric Idle gains a few laughs as the bum who "discovers" the gold in the town, and ends up appearing on the Regis and Kathie Lee talk show.
With a cast so right, how did director Wilson go so wrong? The movie is needlessly empty and uneven, and for every good idea (setting the story in the present day, even though it is filled with old-fashioned values), there are dozens of bad ones. No effort is made to add much originality to the proceedings, or give you a strong sense of Dudley or Nell or their budding romance. Instead, we get some action chases more appropriate for "Universal Soldier: The Return," and the way Dudley overcomes Snidely is ridiculous. For one thing, in the cartoon there's no way Dudley would have been able to defeat him so easily, because Snidely would always come back for another feud. Think of "Dudley Do-Right" as a failed movie not much longer than a one-hour television show, and take the kids to see "Tarzan" for the umpteenth time.
©1999 by Dustin Putman