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Benji: Off the Leash!
2004 - PG - 100 Mins.
Director: Joe Camp
Producer: Joe Camp
Written By: Joe Camp
Starring: Nick Whitaker, Duane Stephens, Randall Newsome, Chris Kendrick, Benji
Review by: Joe Rickey
Official Site:

Dog day afternoon
Colby Hatchett (Nick Whitaker) is one timid young boy. He became as such because of a domineering, overbearing father (Chris Kendrick) who likes things done his way or the highway, as they say. His bullying has basically made a silent mummy out of Colby’s mommy.

Mr. Hatchett supports the family by running an inhumane puppy pound/breeding center for all breeds of dogs. One particular newborn puppy is immediately cast away by Mr. Hatchett but, unbeknownst to him, Colby has hidden the puppy in his small clubhouse in the woods on the family’s property.

Meanwhile, a pair of dog catchers (Randall Newsome and Duane Stephens) is getting harried attempting to catch a dog left on the side of the road by its owner. The dog has somehow been able to elude them repeatedly, despite their best efforts. In steps the title canine to prove the inhumane treatment by Mr. Hatchett while aiding the abandoned dog on the run from the dogcatchers.

With ‘Benji: Off the Leash!’ writer-director Joe Camp; the creator/mastermind behind the ‘Benji’ series of films, has fashioned a children’s film that is truly for children and children only. The film’s rather fundamental handling of a potentially threatening subject, in this case animal cruelty, is at once admirable and far too pat and otherwise simple-minded. On one hand, it is admirable because it introduces the aforementioned topic to young children without really showing the extremes; therefore becoming acceptable for all ages. On the other hand, more demanding viewers may wish for Camp to delve more in-depth into the subject so as to deliver something more substantial and thought-provoking. It may be asking too much of such a genial family film, but nonetheless one is left wondering what more could have been done to incite discussion.

Putting aside all thoughts of topicality, the film is structured very similar to a feature-length sitcom. There are the required tender-hearted moments complete with a swelling musical score, and then there is the comic relief, coming in the form of the two bumbling but good-hearted dogcatchers, who suffer pratfalls whenever the film deems it necessary to induce a chuckle or two. Again, the structure’s familiarity is a necessity perhaps for younger viewers to grasp the plot, but unfulfilling to say the least for others. It makes one wonder if what they are watching wasn’t better-suited for a TV “Movie of the Week” on ABC Family, The Disney Channel, or whatnot.

The performances are nothing to write home about but they get the job done. As Colby, Nick Whitaker is amiable but often plays second fiddle to the antics of the title character. Chris Kendrick is one-note as his father, a mean-spirited man in search of easy money. As the dogcatchers, Duane Stephens and Randall Newsome are okay; coming off surprisingly less cartoonish than expected.

In the end, ‘Benji: Off the Leash!’ is recommended viewing for younger viewers but others may end up bored and unsatisfied.
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

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