Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

Film
cover art

See Spot Run

Director: John Whitesell
Cast: David Arquette, Michael Clarke Duncan, Angus T. Jones, Leslie Bibb, Paul Sorvino, Bob

(Warner Bros.; 2001)

Dog's Out

See Spot Run begins just like Lethal Weapon or any one of its 1001 clones. The camera speeds over a cityscape and an intensive drumbeat fills the soundtrack. Suddenly, you’re inside a warehouse where a mob crew is engaged in a high stakes drug deal, while under surveillance by a heavily armed FBI team. Sonny Talia (Paul Sorvino) looms in the frame, with that combination tough-and-serene mien that movie mob-bosses always have. The word comes down and like lightning, the feds move in, SWAT-team style, repelling off the walls and squatting with their laser-sighted rifles like there’s no tomorrow.


But just when the bust is looking perfectly efficient, the gangsters pull a fast one—the drugs they’re dealing are nowhere to be found. The feds have one more weapon to pull out though, a Bull Mastiff named Agent Eleven (played by Bob, whose previous credits include a small role in 102 Dalmatians). Accompanied by his partner, Agent Murdoch (Michael Clarke Duncan), Eleven sets immediately to the task at hand. He sniffs out the drugs (hidden in cans of blue paint) and takes down Talia, who is clumsily trying to sneak out the back door. Specifically, Eleven assaults the mobster’s genitals, leaving Talia with a replacement ball bearing and a very nasty grudge against the pooch. When he puts out a contract on Eleven, the feds put their staunch fellow agent in the witness protection program.


No surprise, things don’t go according to plan. So smart that he espies Talia’s assassins, Gino (Joe Viterelli) and Arliss (Steven R. Schirripa), Eleven escapes from the truck transporting him and takes shelter in a handy mailman’s truck. This turn of events leads to life changes for the film’s two primary adult characters. First, the burly and ostensibly professional Murdoch will have to reassess his obsessive, near-romantic devotion to Eleven. And second, the mailman into whose truck the dog has leaped will have to come to terms with his own opposite problem, namely, his hatred for dogs of all shapes and sizes.


Mailman Gordon Smith (played by David Arquette, variously famous as the moronic pitchman for 1-800-CALLATT, Scream‘s Deputy Dewey, and Mr. Courteney Cox) is introduced as a dedicated dog-hater (during a scene in which he tries to outwit a succession of neighborhood dogs who are obviously faster and smarter than he is). When Eleven shows up in his truck, Gordon is confronted with a dilemma. While he surely hates dogs, he also happens to have in his truck a serious dog-lover, his babysitting assignment, 7-year-old James (Angus T. Jones). The boy is the son of Gordon’s ex, Stephanie (Leslie Bibb, of the TV series Popular), whom Gordon wants desperately to win back from her new macho-cop boyfriend (set up immediately as the wrong choice, because he doesn’t get on with James). Away on some generic “business trip” (what she does is not quite clear), Stephanie has left James with Gordon, whom she rightly judges to be immature and irresponsible. As soon as mom’s out the door, Gordon feeds the kid a cupboard full of Fruit Loops, Oreos, and Pepsi, until the poor thing erupts in a mighty sugar rush that recalls (deliberately, one might presume) a similar scene in Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy.


As soon as James meets Eleven, he’s smitten, even naming his new friend “Spot” (allowing the film’s cutesy title). But little James soon discovers that “Spot” isn’t the ideal buddy. Super-well-trained by the FBI, the dog is a workaholic, incapable of fetching balls (except the sort that he tears off Talia in that opening scene) or rolling gleefully about on the grass with children. Gordon and Eleven have a few run-ins (the most outrageous has to do with Gordon sliding all over a lawn full of dog poop), but it’s not long before they’ve bonded over their mutual affection for young James, whose well-intentioned mom has sheltered him during his short life. Luckily, Eleven and James have the most joyfully retarded adult male on earth to teach them both to have fun.


Such lessons boil down to a minimal plot, to be sure. But what See Spot Run lacks in complexity, it makes up in hysterical energy, spilling out as a series of fast episodes more than scenes that build to a point. Former tv director John Whitesell (The John Laroquette Show, Roseanne) fills up most of the film’s running time with broad, Farrelly brothers-style slapstick, as well as ripping off ideas from obvious precursors like Turner & Hooch and K-9. See Stephanie splattered with mud. See Eleven foil the hitmen. See Gordon fall splat (again and again). See Gordon’s fellow mailman Benny (Anthony Anderson) join him in a breakdance challenge outside the post office. See Murdoch gaze longingly at his mementoes of Agent Eleven. Oh, the hilarity. By the time the film ends, everyone—and I mean everyone—has been humiliated, abused, and generally reduced to Gordon’s level of inanity. Which means, I guess, that they all deserve each other.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


Related Articles
26 Nov 2006
How did it happen that such determinedly ugly 'men must learn their holiday lessons' movies are now de rigeur?
16 Apr 2003
Like most such slapdashy juggling acts, Malibu's Most Wanted can't keep all its balls in the air.
Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.