Sunday, October 26, 2014

1980 Week: Oh! Heavenly Dog

          Slick but wrongheaded, this unlikely collaboration between family-friendly filmmaker Joe Camp and sarcastic Saturday Night Live alum Chevy Chase derailed the popular Benji franchise. Turns out moviegoers weren’t eager to see scruffy little mutt Benji associated with sex jokes and swearing. Shamelessly lifting concepts from Heaven Can Wait (1978), which was itself a remake of a remake, Oh! Heavenly Dog takes place in London, where American B.J. Browning (Chase) works as a private investigator. One day, shortly after a meet-cute with pretty Englishwoman Jackie (Jane Seymour), B.J. is hired by a mystery man (Omar Sharif) to protect a wealthy woman. When he reaches the lady’s flat, B.J. discovers that she’s dead—and then B.J. gets killed with a butcher knife. Upon arriving in the afterlife, B.J. learns that this admission to heaven is conditional on doing one more good deed: solving his own murder. Since no human vessels are available, B.J.’s soul is put inside a cute little dog, also named B.J. (Benji).
          That’s when Oh! Heavenly Dog starts to lose what little appeal it possessed beforehand. As in prior Benji movies, producer-director Camp and his animal trainers lead their four-legged star through elaborate tricks, simulating a “performance.” The twist this time is that Chase, in voiceover, provides the dog’s inner thoughts—or, more accurately, B.J. the human’s inner thoughts. As if to tell the audience right away that their beloved canine star has left G-rated territory, the first line Chase speaks in dog mode is, “Oh, shit, that was close!” Later, once Seymour’s character reenters the story, the movie features a pair of scenes in which Benji and Seymour bathe together, complete with bedroom eyes across the suds. These scenes are exactly as icky as they sound.
          The voiceover gimmick works for a while, and Chase lands a number of lines well, but eventually viewer fatigue takes hold in a big way. The last 40 minutes or so, during which Benji and the lovely but vapid Seymour conduct the murder investigation together, are utterly lifeless. The presence of dynamic costar Robert Morley only helps so much, and Sharif’s disdain for the movie is plainly evident. While not an outright stinker (though it comes close), Oh! Heavenly Dog is too crude for children and too insipid for adults, but it’s interesting to see how hard Camp tries to make the whole contrived enterprise take flight. Someone even wrangled songs by Elton John and Paul McCartney for the soundtrack.

Oh! Heavenly Dog: FUNKY


Will Errickson said...

I find Jane Seymour so unutterably lovely during this era that this might find its way into my Netflix queue no matter what...

AndyHunt said...

How on Earth anyone believed this could work is beyond me. As an early twenty-something I had a major thing for Mr Chase's movies and had a huge thing for 'Foul Play' sadly this steaming pile of dodgy doggie poo negated all the good stuff in one foul blow.