New Line trots out a potential new horror franchise with “Man’s Best Friend,” story of a genetically engineered guard dog on the loose. It should take a healthy nibble at the box office at first, but get quickly banished to the doghouse by onslaught of major holiday releases.
Chief problem is that Max the dog — a Tibetan mastiff — is easily the most likable character in the movie. Ally Sheedy plays an airhead lifestyle reporter looking for a “real” story. When her source at the animal research lab inconveniently disappears, she breaks in to get the story on her own.
In liberating Max and taking him home, not once does Sheedy’s character wonder if the dog is unhealthy, much less dangerous. Her attitude is matched by the incompetence of the police (Robert Constanzo, John Cassini), who are unable to locate the killer dog.
Lance Henriksen’s scientist offers the best bet for a sympathetic character since he is the one who has been wronged, but he eventually emerges as a modern “mad scientist” who is willing to expend animal — and human — lives for what he considers a worthy cause.
Large chunk of the running time is spent waiting for Max’s sedative to wear off so that he can start wreaking havoc. Violence is brief but notable, including the beast’s swallowing a cat whole and urinating acid in the face of Sheedy’s b.f. (Fredric Lehne). Although much of the violence is depicted with special effects, animal trainer Clint Rowe (credited with “Max’s behavior”) coaxes the film’s best performance from the dog.
Sequel is set up by killing nearly every character in the film and having Max leave behind a litter of puppies. As with most shaggy dog stories, it’ll be hard to stop.