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Frozen Stiff

The pooches out-act the humans in 'Eight Below'

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The dogs in Eight Below are absolutely beautiful. They have major star power, look great on film and succeed in making the viewer care about their characters. They also act circles around their human costars in this flaccid Disney film that is done in by the remarkably uncharismatic presence of Paul Walker and the eternally annoying Jason Biggs.

A storm attacks an Antarctic outpost, causing its human inhabitants to bug out early and leave their sled dogs behind. The intent is to come back and rescue them, but the storm segues into a terrible winter, making it impossible to fly back in and pull the dogs out. The dogs eventually realize that they are on their own, free themselves from their restraints and go about the business of trying to survive in hostile weather conditions.

Basically everything involving the dogs is the stuff of good movies. Each canine handles their screen time with a nicely nuanced performance that requires no narration and no subtitles. Their story is an intriguing one.

Unfortunately, there's also plenty of screen time dedicated to Paul Walker and his character's crusade to hitch a ride back to the Antarctic and save his pets. Walker is not an electrifying presence on screen, and he can inspire naps among those not taken by his matinee-idol looks.

Jason Biggs of American Pie fame is cast as the comic relief for the film, and this boy's shtick is getting old. His character is afraid of flying and gets all upset if dogs try to kiss him. So, of course, we're treated to multiple moments of Biggs overacting as a dog slobbers on him, or Biggs looking all scared and anxious inside the nasty helicopter. The guy isn't funny ... Saving Silverman, Anything Else and the damn Pie movies proved that. The funniest thing he ever did was his cameo in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and that was five minutes of work.

Bruce Greenwood, who played JFK in Thirteen Days, shows up as the eager scientist looking for a meteor and putting everybody's lives in jeopardy for the sake of a rock. His would normally be the bad-guy role, but being that the film is supposed to be uplifting, the script allows him a chance to redeem himself. Greenwood, normally a reliable actor, is as wooden as Walker, as if time spent hanging around Walker infected him like a virus.

When the film breaks away from the meandering human storyline, it has life. While it's a safe bet that some of the dogs will survive, not knowing the actual number of pooches that perish does provide the film a certain level of suspense. One sequence involving a nasty leopard seal scared the living shit out of me and is certain to make little ones cry for mommy. Seriously, it's one of the biggest scary jolts I've seen in a movie in quite some time, and would be more at home in the next Alien vs. Predator movie rather than a happy Disney flick.

The scenery of the film is predictably beautiful. Cinematographer Don Burgess does a nice job filming the landscapes and capturing the dogs in all their splendor. Director Frank Marshall, who did the "Let's eat the passengers!" thriller Alive, handles the animals well. It's a shame he allowed the human element to be so banal.

I'm not giving the film a passing grade, but I will say the movie is worth seeing for the dogs. If you're OK with weeding through pap for some good action-adventure, it's worth a matinee. All in all, about 45 minutes of the movie are decent viewing. If one of the dogs had actually eaten Jason Biggs rather than just spitting on him, that would've qualified as high entertainment.

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