WHAT IS there to say about the movie version of "Dudley Do-Right"? I mean, it's not like they had much to work with in the first place.
If you didn't see the original show, we're talking about a cartoon series featuring an upstanding, goofy Canadian Mountie (Dudley D.R.), a horse called Horse, a villain called Snidely Whiplash, and Nell Fenwick, the woman both rivals fight over. That's it.
The movie version, which stars Brendan Fraser in the title role, is serviceable, in terms of taking the children. Flatulence gets a lot of play, for one thing. And it's reasonably bright, fast moving and sight gaggy. But something is missing.
Fraser is not the reason, though. He replays the slapstick, non-pretentious charm he brought to "George of the Jungle." Jay Ward created both original TV shows and it shows here. "Dudley" is basically "George" dressed up in Mountie uniform. Fraser once again is permanently bewildered, naive and prone to self-induced violence. In "George," he smashed into jungle trees. Here, he keeps falling off his office chair. And the narrator (voice of Corey Burton) keeps making witty asides for the audience.
"A Mountie is always brave and strong and cool," starts the narrator, as Dudley leans back in his chair, puts his feet up on the desk and topples backward.
"Let's try that again," says the narrator.
I didn't really feel engaged, I must confess. The whole thing -- a lot like "Inspector Gadget" -- feels like a package deal designed for children rather than an organic, lovable production.
I wasn't sure what age group writer/director Hugh Wilson was aiming for, either. The two-hour movie involves people foreclosing mortgages, because Snidely's evil agenda includes taking over the townspeople's various properties and businesses. What kid is going to "get" that stuff? There's more. Snidely, who becomes Semi-Happy Valley's leading citizen through a gold hoax scheme, entertains his friends and cohorts often on his miniature golf course. But these power meetings seem rather above the heads of most children. His henchmen are all motorcycle riders. And he commands a small flotilla of speedboats and various tanks -- all of which figure in a grand finale, in which a leather-jacketed Dudley (temporarily stripped of his uniform) also rides around on a motorbike.
All of this may spell "pre-teenager," but the primitive antics of the characters spell "very young." Does this satisfy everyone or no one?
My non-discriminatory 7-year-old son liked it, anyway. Especially the flatulence. (I think I'll hold off introducing him to Wittgenstein for now.) And he was particularly impressed with the narrator's reference to a Pokemon collection. But losing your mortgage? Forget it. And he was hardly able to understand that "Riverdance" was being mocked in an "Indian Corn Pageant" number involving singing-dancing braves in a well-choreographed stage show.
As Nell Fenwick, Sarah Jessica Parker is energetic, enthusiastic but not particularly involving. Not that she had much to work with. Alfred Molina plays it to the hissy hilt as Snidely Whiplash. And Eric Idle was funny in fits and starts as "The Prospector," a townsman who believes he's found gold, but is just an unwitting pawn in Snidely's elaborate gold-hoax scheme. But again, these performances feel too manufactured to be charming. Taking leave of the characters was not especially heartbreaking for me. And as I headed back to the car, at no point did I break into a "Riverdance" jig.
DUDLEY DO-RIGHT (PG, 83 minutes) -- Contains flatulence and slapstick. Area theaters.