"Dudley Do-Right"

Brendan Fraser does the sweet-but-stupid big lug shtick again -- and again, and again ...


Mary Elizabeth Williams
August 27, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Not to disparage anybody's acting skills, but it does frequently happen that the best part of a Brendan Fraser movie is the part where he takes off his shirt.
Unfortunately, in "Dudley Do-Right," the live-action version of the vintage cartoon series about a goody-goody Canadian Mountie, Fraser's pectorals
remain hopelessly, stubbornly clad throughout. It probably won't make any difference to filmgoers under 10, but it does present a problem for the
rest of the audience. With no six-pack of steel to focus on, viewers can't help
but notice the limitations of the movie's literal hit-you-over-the-head humor.

The movie is an old-fashioned (or, to put it another way, dated) series of slapstick gags surrounding the pathological klutziness of
its hero. Dudley falls off chairs -- repeatedly. He gets whacked with loose floorboards -- repeatedly. He rides his horse backward, and at one point
even finds himself standing underneath a falling moose head. Somehow, unless your name is Curly, Larry or Moe, this stuff just doesn't work as well with real actors as it does in 2-D.

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While the movie's Teletubby-like devotion to the again! again! brand of entertainment is clearly a well-intentioned nod to the mind-set of its
target audience, it's hard to imagine any but the very youngest of viewers not getting fidgety from it. The same lame gag, replayed over and over again, doesn't exactly get better each time. No wonder Dudley's arch-nemesis Snidely Whiplash (Alfred Molina) declares that it's more fun to be the bad guy -- the job certainly offers more variety.

Despite its tedious high shtick quotient, "Dudley" is not entirely without its pleasures. Like its predecessor, "George of the Jungle," the
film does strive to pay homage to its Jay Ward heritage, inserting welcome smatterings of grown-up humor along with the head trauma stuff. There's a
brand new and surprisingly enjoyable "Fractured Fairy Tale" tacked on before the main attraction. And the film's core premise is a fairly
sophisticated and remarkably ballsy -- especially for a kids' movie -- dig at the marketing monolith (and competing studio) that is Disney.

The story is set in motion when supervillain Snidely Whiplash -- the greatest menace to hail from the north since Terrence and
Philip
farted their way to infamy -- bullies his way into buying up a sleepy little Canadian town, creates an artificial gold rush and
turns it into a tacky, overpriced tourist mecca overnight, renaming it in honor of himself. Sure, the "yuppie wetbacks" from the United States get a kick out of panning for nuggets in the local stream, but the real allure of Snidely's metropolis is in the recreational facilities and brightly lit shopping arcade -- where visitors can stock up on an array of merchandise emblazoned with its founder's distinctive silhouette. Sound like any place you know?

For a while, it might seem like the dastardly Snidely has the upper hand -- but that's just the
problem. As a respected business leader with his own Secret Hangout and Day Spa, he's now, to his chagrin, the town's redeemer and good guy. And a
frustrated Dudley, rechristening himself Do-Wrong, is so blind with rage over Snidely's triumph he's driven to foul acts of vandalism, like TP-ing
the mini-golf course. But with the aid of a resourceful town drunk (Eric Idle) and a helpful tribe of show-tune-loving Indians with names like Standing Room Only, Dudley may yet regain his rightness and restore Canada's pastoral charm.

"Dudley Do-Right" isn't a bad movie, and it's frequently clever and funny. But, while he's
undeniably skilled at physical comedy and at playing the sweet-but-stupid big lug, Fraser isn't doing anything here he hasn't done a dozen times before. Whether he keeps his shirt on or off, he has the look now of a stage actor who's played the same role so often, he could be mentally composing his grocery list while emoting for the audience. Molina does a perfunctory job as the mustache-twirling Snidely. But poor Sarah Jessica Parker -- as the girl both Snidely and Dudley love, she has little to do but wince sympathetically every time her Mountie injures himself.

But it's not the acting that's the main flaw here. While it may be a bit much to expect the movie's youthful target audience to fully appreciate a satire of gentrification and consumer manipulation (especially when they leave the movie theater clamoring for Dudley Do-Right action figures), that's exactly the kind of skeptical, up-with-simplicity message kids could use more of. So it's too bad that the concept gets lost in so much clichid pratfalling and such uninspired, where's-my-paycheck? performances.

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As the summer's earlier kid hit, "The Iron Giant," proves, it's entirely
possible to put a point across in a movie that doesn't skimp on jokes
or action. "Dudley" has enough flickers of Jay Ward's gloriously subversive
sensibility to make it watchable, but it also has enough lengthy stretches
of pure triteness to make it easy to skip altogether. In the end, it's
neither Dudley Do-Right nor Do-Wrong, but merely Dudley Do-Just-So-So.


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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