Alternately jerking the audience’s tears and splashing snow in their faces, 3-D indie “Call of the Wild” loses focus (literally) but gets by on its good-hearted demeanor and a gently sweet turn by white-bearded Christopher Lloyd as the heroine’s protective gramps. Pic’s other standout perf is given by the huge canine cast as Buck, an initially infirm, ultimately athletic dog/wolf hybrid that pulls a 10-year-old city girl over the line in a climactic sled race. Alas, kiddie auds likely won’t come along for the ride in big numbers for a limited-release film whose 3-D is fuzzier than Buck’s fur.
Shot on location in wintry Montana, “Call of the Wild” is related only loosely but cleverly to Jack London’s like-titled novel, which Lloyd’s character reads to his pigtailed granddaughter, triggering brief re-enactments of the original narrative. Among supporting players, Wes Studi underwhelms as a woodsman who walks fully armed down Main Street, while Veronica Cartwright makes a welcome appearance as a “Fargo”-style sheriff who allows a dogsled contest to determine the ownership of wild Buck. Too bad the animal’s protruding nose is the only feature that demands the third dimension.