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Friday, January 14, 2005

RACING STRIPES (PG, 90 minutes)

There was this movie called "Babe," which blew the barn doors off the well-worn, business-as-usual, post-Disney talking-animal subgenre. It told all of us (audiences and movie studios alike) that originality is allowed when it comes to entertaining children. Apparently, the filmmakers of "Racing Stripes" did not get the memo. Although this film about a zebra who aspires to win horse races has a marvelous premise, it slows to a mediocre canter right out of the starting gate. A circus zebra (voice of Frankie Muniz) is lost in the rain, then found and adopted by a onetime horse trainer (Bruce Greenwood) and his daughter, Channing (Hayden Panettiere). They raise it. And the zebra (soon to be named Racing Stripes) dreams of racing against the thoroughbreds at the nearby racecourse, located (with obvious computer-graphic convenience) next door. The story moves like a cart horse to get Racing Stripes into those races with the hardly surprising results. And when the script isn't recycling the familiar (without much spark), it's filling every possible other moment with labored puns and toilet humor. David Spade and Steve Harvey are rarely amusing as two flies whose favorite subject is, not surprisingly, dung-related. And we're supposed to be tickled by the voice of Joe Pantoliano as a goose who claims to be a New Jersey GoodFella. But it's unclear which young viewers are supposed to get his secondhand "Sopranos" patter, the children of mobsters? "Racing Stripes" is likely to recoup its money in the all-is-forgiven rental afterlife, which will send the wrong signals to the wrong people to do it all over again. Contains crude potty humor and some mild obscenities. Area theaters.

-- Desson Thomson

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