Reviewed by: Lacey Mical (Callahan) Walker
|Featuring:||Lincoln Hoppe, Nick Whitaker, Chris Kendrick, Randall Newsome, Duane Stephens|
|Producer:||Joe Camp, Margaret Loesch|
|Distributor:||Mulberry Square Releasing|
“Rules are made to be housebroken”
Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Benji is out to bust the system because some things are just not right. This is a story about heroes. Three unlikely, unsuspecting souls who come face-to-face with that moment in their lives when they must stand and be counted. For Sheldon, it’s difficult because he doesn’t appear to be the brightest guy in the world (although he might be the funniest). For Colby, it’s even more difficult because he’s only 14 years old, and up against enormous odds.
For Benji, it’s almost impossible… because, after all, he’s just a dog, lost and alone, with nothing but a belligerent bird and a bungling stray mutt to help. A band of unlikely comrades, brought together by the least likely of the bunch, for a common, courageous purpose. Things will change. Lives will be saved. Because Benji is off the leash!”
If you purchase tickets to this show expecting to see a film of the same caliber that we enjoyed in the Benji movies of the 1980’s, you may be disappointed, as I was, in this poorly executed attempt.
The movie begins as “Benji” is born to a dog owned by the Hatchet family. Mr. Hatchet is a harsh, cruel man who owns ten dogs for breeding stock. His son, Colby, does most of the care-taking for the dogs. Colby is tenderhearted and kind, doing his best to protect the dogs from his father’s abusive behavior.
Young Benji is part of a litter of mutts born to a rare, prized breeder. His litter-mates all look like their mother, but Benji is obviously not purebred, so Mr. Hatchet tosses him aside and leaves him to die. Colby secretly rescues the pup from his fate, hiding him away in his secret fort where he also keeps a pet macaw.
Benji has several mini-adventures as the story proceeds. He fraternizes with a stray dog who is constantly stalked by Animal Control. Unlike most canine-starring flicks, the Animal Control and Humane Society are not presented as the “bad guys.” Their job to protect animals and people is fairly and accurately portrayed.
There are many slow spots throughout the film, several scenes that are repetitive, and only a few laughs. I heard two children from different families asking, “Is it almost over?”
I was disappointed to learn that the villain in this film is the father. As the story unfolds, we learn that Mr. Hatchet is physically abusive to his wife and son. There is a scene in which he appears ready to strike Colby, and Mrs. Hatchet steps between them. Also, Colby jumps on his father’s back, preventing him from harming a stray dog, and Mr. Hatchet angrily tosses him to the ground. At the end of the film, Mr. Hatchet is incarcerated when police find a bruise on Mrs. Hatchet’s head. We don’t hear the conversation, but watch as Colby apparently tells police about his father’s abusive behavior. Not exactly a “happily ever after” ending that kids can appreciate. Many small children would be disturbed and frightened by seeing a parent portrayed in this way.
The acting is poor, and the script was written in such a way that the dialogue seems forced and unnatural. By far the best players were the dogs. The direction has an obviously amateurish feel, and some of the camera angles are frustrating because one can’t tell what’s taking place in the scene. The quality of this film better suits a direct-to-video flick.
Joe Camp, who has written, produced and directed this latest Benji adventure, proudly trumpets that, unlike most Hollywood productions, his film is not “…full of poop jokes, sexual innuendo, gratuitous violence, and gutter language.” I applaud Mr. Camp for striving to create family-friendly entertainment, and in that spirit I happily paid to support this effort. I hope that a message will be sent that there is indeed an audience ready and waiting for something clean and wholesome to enter the theaters. Unfortunately, the quality of “Benji: Off the Leash” is so poor, it may leave some audiences more sure than ever that some amount of sex, language and violence are just necessary evils in order to watch a well-made piece.
Violence: Minor / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: None
Proverbs 12:10—A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.
All in all, would I encourage folk to bypass this film or wait for the video due to its disappointments? Well, I personally made the choice to put my money where my mouth is—and if I must sacrifice a few bucks to see a poor quality film to send a message to Hollywood that decency belongs in the movies, then so be it. The choice is yours.
—Deanna Marquart, age 33