Following "Flight of the Innocent," an impressive art film that was nonetheless a commercial disappointment, Italian Carlo Carlei makes his U.S. directorial debut with a film that is just as stylistically excessive,

Following “Flight of the Innocent,” an impressive art film that was nonetheless a commercial disappointment, Italian Carlo Carlei makes his U.S. directorial debut with a film that is just as stylistically excessive,

flaunting his facility with the camera at the expense of simpler, more coherent storytelling, as befits children’s movies.

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 dialogue, details the travails of Fluke the puppy as he’s separated from his family and mistreated in various ways by humans, until he’s adopted by a homeless woman. When she dies, Fluke befriends Rumbo (voiceprovided by Samuel L. Jackson), a street-smart dog who serves as his mentor, teaching him the ropes of the canine world.

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

Children probably will prefer the film’s later sequences, which are more conventional and 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 of life in whatever form it assumes. The adventure doesn’t pander to kids, though toward the end it gets overly emotional, milking every situation with lengthy reaction shots and cute closeups 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 usual. Boasting a bravura style, with rapid punctuation of flashbacks and subtle editing, pic may be visually a tad too sophisticated for tykes.

“Fluke” confirms the validity of one of showbiz’s time-honored mottoes: 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 “Searching for Bobby Fischer.”

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

Fluke

(Animal adventure -- Color)

Production

An MGM/UA release of a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presentation of a Rocket Pictures production. Produced by Paul Maslansky, Lata Ryan. Executive producers, Jon Turtle, Tom Coleman. Directed by Carlo Carlei. Screenplay, Carlei, James Carrington, based on the novel by James Herbert.

Crew

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 (DTS stereo), 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. Reviewed at Westwood Mann theater, L.A., May 30, 1995. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 96 min.

With

Thomas Johnson ... Matthew Modine Carol Johnson ... Nancy Travis Jeff Newman ... Eric Stoltz Brian Johnson ... Max Pomeranc Voice of Rumbo ... Samuel L. Jackson Sylvester ... Ron Perlman Boss ... Jon Polito Bert ... Bill Cobbs Bella ... Collin Wilcox Paxton Intended for children as well as their parents, "Fluke," the dramatic tale of a dog who was once a man, is strange family fare, a non-formulaic pic that tries to blend the expected magic of animal adventures with more serious ideas. Fortunately, its star, Comet, the adorable golden retriever of the ABC series "Full House," compensates for a narrative that may be too complex and too dark for children.
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