Fluke: Tale of Dog Who Was Once a Man

Intended for children as well as their parents, Fluke, the dramatic tale of a dog who was once a man, is a strange family fare, a non-formulaic picture that tries to blend the expected magic of animal adventures with some more serious ideas. Fortunately, its star, Comet, the adorable golden retriever of ABC’s hit series Full House, compensates for a narrative that may be too complex and too dark for children. Uneven pic may benefit from the fact that, with the exception of Gordy, it’s the only animal yarn in the market right now.

Following “Flight of the Innocent,” an impressive art film that was nonetheless a commercial disappointment, Italian Carlo Carlei makes his American directorial debut with a film that is just as stylistically excessive, flaunting his facility with the camera at the expense of a simpler, more coherent storytelling as befit children’s pix.

Tale begins with a disastrous car race between Thomas Johnson (Matthew Modine) and Jeff Newman (Eric Stoltz), close friends and business partners, that ends with a fatal accident, after which Thomas wakes up as a dog! Pic’s first part, which is almost devoid of any dialogue, details the travails of Fluke the puppy, as he’s separated from his family and mistreated in various way by humans, until he’s adopted by a homeless woman. When she dies, Fluke befriends Rumbo (voice provided by the great Samuel Jackson), a street-smart dog who serves as his mentor, teaching him the ropes of the canine world.

Picture changes gears (for the better) once Rumbo is brutally shot and Fluke, still haunted by vague memories of his former life with attractive wife (Nancy Travis) and sensitive son Brian (Max Pomeranc) decides to trace his family and go home. Through brief flashbacks, which might prove too confusing for young kids, saga reconstructs Fluke’s conflict with his partner that led to his tragic death.

Children will probably like better the film’s later sequences, which are more conventional and also more sentimental, showing how Fluke ingratiates himself with the initially resistant mom and especially with Brian, a lonely kid who desperately misses his dad.

It takes some time, but ultimately Fluke turns into a charming, positive message story about love for life in whatever form it assumes. Blessedly, the adventure doesn’t pander to dogs or kids, though toward the end story gets overly emotional, milking every situation with lengthy reaction shots and cute close-ups of Fluke.

Appropriately, all the events are shown consistently from Fluke’s point of view, a challenge helmer Carlei faces magnificently by placing the camera considerably lower to the ground than the average person’s. At the same time, boasting an bravura style, with rapid punctuation of flashbacks and subtle editing, pic may be visually a tad too sophisticated for children.

Fluke confirms the validity of one of showbiz’ time-honored mottos, “beware children and animals.” Indeed, all three adults, Modine, Travis, and Stoltz, otherwise accomplished and attractive performers, assume secondary status to the gorgeous dog and his loyal benefactor, Pomeranc, who made an auspicious debut as the young chess prodigy in the sleeper hit, Searching for Bobby Filcher.

For the record, as story calls for Fluke to be a mixed-breed mutt, Comet, a pure retriever, was transformed by clipping its fur and dying it a deeper brown with vegetable coloring!

Credits

An MGM/UA release of a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presentation of a Rocket Pictures production. Produced by Paul Maslansky and Lata Ryan. Executive producers, Jon Turtle, Tom Coleman. Directed by Carlo Carlei.
Screenplay: Carlei and James Carrington, based on James Herbert’s novel.
Camera (DeLuxe, color), Raffaele Mertes.
Editor, Mark Conte.
Music, Carlo Siliotto.
Production design, Hilda Stark.
Art direction, Richard Fojo.
Set decoration, Dayna Lee.
Costume design, Elisabetta Beraldo.
Sound, Mark Mangini; animal coordinators, David J. McMillan, Cristie Miele; special animal effects, Animated Engineering Dave Nelson; associate producer, Terri Ferraro; assistant director, Bruce Moriarty; casting, Lynn Stalmaster.

MPAA Rating: PG.
Running time: 96 minutes

Cast

Fluke/Thomas Johnson…..Matthew Modine
Carol Johnson…………..Nancy Travis
Jeff Newman……………..Eric Stoltz
Brian Johnson…………..Max Pomeranc
Rumbo…Barney, voice by Samuel Jackson
Sylvester……………….Ron Perlman
Boss…………………….Jon Polito
Bert…………………….Bill Cobbs
Bella…………..Collin Wilcox Paxton