Who better, or so you might think, to play the lead in "Dudley Do-Right" than Brendan Fraser, an actor whose persona contains so much of the straight-arrow Canadian Mountie that you could run a retrospective of his career and call it a Dudley Do-Right celebration and no one would object.
But though it hurts to think unkind thoughts about the square-shooting Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman who is passionate about right and wrong, in reality casting Fraser as Dudley turns out to be too much of a good thing, a case of Blank Look Overkill.
But worse news is yet to come, because as uninspiring as Fraser is, the likable actor is still the best thing about this tiresome, inept farce that's not even a fraction as clever or entertaining as it likes to imagine it is.
Even viewers with fond memories of Dudley, his sweetheart Nell Fenwick and his nemesis Snidely Whiplash (all developed by Jay Ward as part of his Rocky Squirrel and Bullwinkle Moose stable of TV characters) should steer clear of this complete waste of time, which even at 72 minutes plays bloated and overlong.
Written, directed and executive produced by Hugh Wilson ("Blast From the Past," "Police Academy," TV's "WKRP in Cincinnati"), "Dudley" disappoints in every way possible, forcing its failed tongue-in-cheek humor and proving one more time that not all successful cartoons cry out for live-action treatment.
"Dudley" introduces its trio of protagonists as children, with Snidely set on a course of evil because bad guys have the most fun, Dudley sure it's his destiny to be a Mountie and Nell unwilling or unable to choose between them.
Nothing much has changed when these three are reconfigured as adults, except that Dudley is noticeably clumsier, liable to set his hat on fire and likely to cause floorboards to crash into his skull. As for Nell (Sarah Jessica Parker, a long way from "Sex and the City") and Snidely (a tiresome Alfred Molina), they pretty much play to expectations.
Snidely's pet project of the moment is to scare the residents of Semi-Happy Valley into deserting their quiet town (which he renames Whiplash City) so he can incite a fake gold rush and then make a fortune servicing the hordes who show up expecting to get rich quick.
Dudley would like to stop this from happening, but he's not quite up to the task, at least at first. However, with the help of a woebegone prospector (Eric Idle, who's at least close to funny), Dudley manages to get in touch with his dark side and fight Snidely (or "Whip," as his minions call him) on just about equal terms.
Either times have changed or the writing this time around is especially feeble (probably the latter), but many of the original Jay Ward techniques, such as having an omniscient narrator (the voice is Corey Burton's) making sarcastic comments, are tedious here. It is amusing to have Nell and Dudley sing the "Indian Love Call" that Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy popularized in 1936's "Rose-Marie," but in general, making these characters flesh and blood has simply made them less funny across the board.
Short though it is, "Dudley Do-Right" is rife with out-and-out padding, such as the "River-dance"-type production numbers the local Canarsie Kumquat tribe is passing off as its authentic native rites. It's a mark of how enervating the film's line of chat is that we actually come to look forward to these dialogue-free moments when we don't have to put up with a stream of torpid repartee. Dumber than Dudley (no mean feat), dumber than most cartoons, this film will be forgotten well before it's gone.
* MPAA rating: PG, for mild comic action violence, and for brief language and innuendo. Times guidelines: horse flatulence humor.
Brendan Fraser: Dudley Do-Right
Sarah Jessica Parker: Nell Fenwick
Alfred Molina: Snidely Whiplash
Eric Idle: The Prospector
Robert Prosky: Inspector Fenwick
Alex Rocco: The Chief
A Davis Entertainment/Joseph Singer Entertainment/Todd Harris production, released by Universal Pictures. Director Hugh Wilson. Producers John Davis, Joseph M. Singer, J. Todd Harris. Executive producer Hugh Wilson. Screenplay Hugh Wilson, based on characters developed by Jay Ward. Cinematographer Donald E. Thorin. Editor Don Brochu. Costumes Lisa Jensen. Music Steve Dorff. Production design Bob Ziembicki. Art director Helen Jarvis. Set decorator Shirley Inget. Running time: 1 hour, 12 minutes.
In general release.