Part serious guy (Gods and Monsters, "School Ties") and part wannabe action star (The Mummy), Brendan Fraser may find his greatest success as a smirking comic actor who's prone to silly grins and painful-looking pratfalls.
Fraser notched solid box-office with just such a role in 1997's "George of the Jungle," so he must have jumped at the chance to play the title character in "Dudley Do-Right," another live-action version of an animated 1960s TV series created by Jay Ward.
During this summer of romantic-comedy duds, moronic terror trips and overbaked event pictures, be thankful for small favors: "Dudley Do-Right," written and directed by Hugh Wilson (with whom Fraser teamed for the forgettable Blast From the Past) may aim low, but it hits the mark. It's a pleasant little diversion that's marked by winning, over-the-top performances, goofy sight gags and a solid buzz of Baby-Boomer nostalgia.
Fraser -- he of the wide face, sparkling eyes and lanky good looks -- plays the Canadian Mountie as a good-hearted but clueless citizen who, as a prologue teaches us, has long been intent on a career in genteel law enforcement. That preamble also introduces us to the young versions of Dudley's enemy, Snidley Whiplash (already equipped with black hat and cape), and Nell Fenwick, the object of both boys' affections.
Twenty years later, the bitter rivals are fulfilling their respective destinies in the Canadian Rockies community of Semi-Happy Valley, while Nell (Sarah Jessica Parker) has traveled the world and earned degrees from Harvard and Yale in an effort to find herself. Dudley keeps busy by bonding with his horse (named Horse, of course) and tooling around his office. He inadvertently and repeatedly steps on loose floorboards that slam him in the face, and often tumbles from the chair behind his desk. Ho ho ho.
Snidley (a leering Alfred Molina) has recently robbed a bank -- with the help of 200 villains, all dressed in black -- and is now intent on another bit of evil business. He begins by convincing Dudley that vampires lurk in the woods, a bit of tomfoolery that leads to a villagers-bearing-torches sequence that's straight out of Gothic horror classics.
Part two of the plan: Our favorite sniveling bad guy sprinkles area streams with gold, bringing thousands of greedy American yuppies across the border and turning Semi-Happy Valley into a tourist town. In honor of its new benefactor, the burg is renamed Whiplash City.
Dudley is subsequently stripped of his uniform and firearms by Inspector Fenwick (Robert Prosky), Nell's dad. So the good guy is forced to wear black in order to end the reign of the evil Snidley. Donning a leather jacket, Do-Right adopts a Harley as his new mode of transportation. Horse, it seems, has mysteriously disappeared.
Sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious but often not, "Dudley Do-Right" greatly benefits from the bass-toned voice-over of an omniscient, pseudo-hip narrator (Corey Burton). Eric Idle is entertaining as a grizzled, alcoholic prospector who gains fame as the first man to find the gold; he's also a Pokémon expert who helps Dudley regain his confidence through a series of Oriental master-student exercises. The funniest set piece centers on a Corn Festival that's put on by a tribe of Indians from South Brooklyn (their Chief is portrayed by Alex Rocco). It's a cheesy, Vegas-style revue, complete with bare-chested male dancers, skimpily dressed women, giant corn husks and some "Riverdance"-style tap moves.
All in all, "Dudley Do-Right" is funny enough, but not likely to be remembered long after its opening weekend. Then again, you could do worse than cheerful amneisa at the movies right now.
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