When I saw Man’s Best Friend among the choices on NetFlix® instant queue, I couldn’t immediately remember much about the film I’d watched so many years ago – something about a dog swallowing a cat was pretty much all I came up with.
Still, I decided to give the film another shot. Would Man’s Best Friend turn out to have more than one memorable scene, or was that one scene all this sci-fi thriller had to offer?
Ally Sheedy, surprisingly, basically reprises her role in Short Circuit, once again taking in a strange “pet” and interacting with it, showing it affection while it’s being hunted. Unlike Johnny 5, however, her visitor this time – a Tibetan Mastiff named Max – isn’t quite so innocent, and wreaks havoc amongst her neighborhood (including swallowing the neighbors cat) and in her home, as it takes an instant disliking to her boyfriend (played by Fredric Lehne).
Still, Ally brings that sort of “cup-is-half-full” optimism to the role, wanting to believe the best of her charge. While that optimism is seriously misplaced in Man’s Best Friend, it’s still just as endearing for her character. Unfortunately, she’s not quite as into her role this time around, and her supposedly tough-as-nails reporter doesn’t quite fit her, but the viewer will still appreciate that perky optimism as the film plays out – if only to look forward to when she realizes that optimism is flawed when she finally discovers what Max is really all about.
Lance Henriksen, who made quite a name for himself with the Alien (1979) films, turns in a so-so performance in Man’s Best Friend, basically showing up to present the film with a bit of a nod to sci-fi geekdom. Unfortunately, that amounts to him just popping up briefly throughout the film, contributing little to the overall scheme of things.
Max himself is rather impressive. While the special effects do tend to go a bit overboard at points (look at him leap over a police car!), his performance seems right on the money, delivering both the endearing stares that help win Ally’s character over, and the viciousness of a trained killer when the scene calls for it. He even endures makeup effects on his face after his skin and eye are charred by a vicious temporary owner (William Sanderson, of Newhart (TV) fame, in his most evil performance yet).
Unfortunately, half of the film is spent trying to make the idea of a genetically-enhanced vicious dog on the loose into a comedy, with Max going for both the amorous (he becomes entranced by a neighbor’s female dog) and the typical (the neighbor’s cat, the mailman). Unfortunately, these scenes seem to emphasize more the filmmaker’s desire to poke fun at the whole concept of a vicious gene-spliced killer dog, almost as if they can’t quite buy the idea. And if the movie’s creators can’t buy the idea, why should the viewer?
Despite an impressive performance by the real Max (apparently, that’s the dog’s real name as well), and a bit of Short Circuit nostalgia from Ally Sheedy, Man’s Best Friend never quite ends up convincing the viewer to suspend their disbelief, so the viewer will watch the whole thing with a grain of salt, laughing at it’s desperate attempts to even deliver an ambiguous ending, rather than ever actually getting involved in the characters.
A decent concept ruined by some over-the-top special effects sequences and the film’s inability to resist poking fun at it’s own concept, Man’s Best Friend – apart from the afore-mentioned dog-swallows-cat sequence, has little to offer it’s viewers.