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'See Spot Run' needs to return to doghouse

SEE SPOT RUN —* 1/2 — David Arquette, Angus T. Jones, Michael Clarke Duncan, Leslie Bibb, Paul Sorvino, Anthony Anderson, Joe Viterelli, Steven R. Schirippa; rated PG (vulgarity, violence, profanity); Carmike 12 and Ritz 15 Theaters; Century Theatres 16; Cinemark Jordan Landing Theaters; Gateway 8 Cinemas; Loews Cineplex Cinemas Midvalley and Trolley Corners Cinemas; Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons.

"See Spot Run" wouldn't be the first movie that tried to get by on the charms of a cute child or a particularly precocious animal. But it just might be the dumbest.

After all, most kids films would have been content to stick with the tried-and-true the-cuter-the-better formula. And as mediocre as the results probably would have been, it would have to be preferable to this movie.

Among the biggest mistakes the the filmmakers made is letting the consistently unfunny David Arquette be the star instead of his far less irritating co-stars. And if that isn't bad enough, the humor is junior high-level or lower — including a sickening and lengthy (nearly five minutes) dog-doo sequence that wouldn't seem out of place in one of Jim Carrey's earliest low-brow comedies.

Also, for what's supposed to be a PG-rated family film, there are some very troubling moments, such as an animal attacking a sensitive part of the male anatomy (more than once) and also some alleged slapstick that's a lot more mean-spirited than it should be.

Not that this should be surprising, considering the faulty premise. Arquette stars as Gordon Smith, an irresponsible, childlike mailman who finds himself stuck babysitting James (Angus T. Jones), a 6-year-old neighbor boy. Gordon only agrees to take care of James because he's desperately trying to win over the boy's mother (Leslie Bibb). But he has his hands full with the youngster, who isn't impressed with his new caretaker — at least not until he helps him take in a stray bull mastiff they call Spot.

What they don't know is that Spot is actually Agent 11, a crimefighting FBI hound that has been placed in — and escaped from — the witness-protection program after crossing mob boss Sonny Talia (Paul Sorvino).

Seeking revenge on the dog, Sonny hires two bungling hit men (veteran heavy Joe Viterelli and "Sopranos" supporting player Steven R. Schirippa) to bump Spot off, while FBI agent Murdoch (Michael Clarke Duncan) tries to locate his canine partner before it's too late.

As you can probably guess, at times the film strays into "Home Alone" territory, with plenty of chaotic "comedic" action. It also tries to be sentimental, but in tone it's closer to Adam Sandler's "Big Daddy" than Charlie Chaplin's "The Kid."

For whatever reason, director John Whitesell (he did the little-seen Jason Priestley comedy "Calendar Girl") and an army of screenwriters would rather stoop to cheap gags than play off the natural chemistry between Arquette, Jones and the animal.

Arquette tries to make up for that with a forced performance that isn't nearly as funny as he seems to think it is, while the other adult performances — especially Sorvino and Duncan — look embarrassed throughout the film.

"See Spot Run" is rated PG for crude humor (mostly flatulence and scatological gags involving animals), violence (mostly slapstick but some of it disturbing) and scattered profanity. Running time: 95 minutes.