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DUDLEY DO RIGHT

by: James Berardinelli

If Hollywood keeps at it like this, a few years into the new millennium, there won't be a "classic" cartoon series (meaning one with a pedigree that stretches back pre-1980) that hasn't been adapted/converted into a live action motion picture. For fans of Saturday morning fare, this would be heartening news if the movie versions weren't so uniformly uninspired. The best of these films (George of the Jungle) has been passably entertaining; the worst (Mr. Magoo) has been close to unwatchable. Now, hot on the heels of the eminently forgettable Inspector Gadget comes Dudley Do-Right, the latest waste of celluloid.

No matter how you look at it, Dudley Do-Right seems like an odd choice to bring to the big screen. The premise - a pure Canadian Mountie who saves his pretty, helpless girlfriend from the clutches of an evil villain - is thin enough for a TV cartoon, not to mention a major motion picture. And, unlike The Flintstones, Casper, and even George of the Jungle, all of which can boast significant fan bases, there doesn't seem to be large contingent of movie-goers (of any age) eagerly anticipating the arrival of the live-action Dudley Do-Right. The film is basically late-summer filler, and will soon be on its way to video store shelves.

Fortunately, the movie does not remain slavishly faithful to its small screen inspiration. The central idea is altered and opened up considerably, which allows the material to expand to a reasonable length without seeming unbearably repetitious. Here, Dudley (played by Brendan Fraser) is still a Royal Canadian Mountie with a solid jaw, unshakable morals, and an IQ less than his suit size. And the black-clad, mustachioed Snidely Whiplash (Alfred Molina) is still the bad guy who delights in tying people to train tracks. But Nell (Sarah Jessica Parker) isn't dim or helpless - she possesses two graduate degrees and has served as the U.S. Ambassador to Guam - and she's actually attracted to both Dudley and Snidely, albeit for different reasons.

The story takes place in Semi-Happy Valley, Canada - a small, unremarkable hamlet that no one ever visits. Through a series of nefarious methods, Snidely comes into possession of most of the property in the town, and re-names it Whiplash City. He then seeds the streams and mines with gold, publicizes the first "strike" by a local ne'er-do-well named Kim J. Darling (Eric Idle), and reaps the profits when Whiplash City becomes a hotbed of tourist prospecting activity. When Dudley complains to the officials in Ottawa that something suspicious is going on, he is relieved of duty. So, in order to beat Snidely and re-claim Nell's affections, he must become "Dudley Do-Wrong" and take a few lessons on how to be "dangerous" from Kim J. Darling, who happens to be a secret Zen master.

At its best, Dudley Do-Right isn't all wrong. In fact, there are a few sequences, such as the ones in which Darling plays Obi-Wan to Dudley's Luke and teaches him about the ways of "Daring, Trust, and Instinct," that are moderately funny. And the idea of Dudley exploring the dark side while Snidely shows hints of goodness takes us a short distance down an unexpected pathway. Unfortunately, a lot of the humor is sophomoric and some of the "clever" twists aren't nearly as sophisticated or unique as the filmmakers think. For example, the idea that an omniscient narrator might throw out a few wisecracks and interact with the characters could have been be interesting if the same approach hadn't been used to better effect in George of the Jungle. In the end, Dudley Do-Right thrives on the Home Alone staple - lots of slapstick, cartoon violence where nobody really gets hurt. Characters are smacked on the head multiple times with boards and stones without showing more than a moment's disorientation, and the only damage done to a man sitting at the center of an explosion i

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