Film review: Paulie

Published: Friday, April 17 1998 12:01 a.m. MDT

There may come a day when the movie studios release a family film that both adults and children can enjoy — one that is also free of the vulgar gags and crass humor that has plagued the recent slate of non-animated Disney features.

Until that day comes, we'll have to make due with what we've got, which is why it's so delightful when a movie like "Paulie" comes along. This live-action comedy has its faults (in particular, a couple of out-of-place flatulence jokes), but it's also more clever and kind-hearted than you might expect.

The obvious comparison is to the 1995 surprise hit "Babe." And there are some obvious similarities — both are stories about talking animals that form strong attachments to their human owners (one a pig, the other a parrot). But most of "Paulie" is told through flashbacks, as the smart-alecky title character (voiced by former "Saturday Night Live" cast member and "Jerry Maguire" co-star Jay Mohr) explains how he wound up "imprisoned" in the basement of a research facility.

As the beloved pet of Marie (Hallie Kate Eisenberg), a young girl with a stuttering problem, Paulie learned to speak and comprehend the human language. However, his fear of flying had nearly fatal consequences for his owner, and she was forced to give him away.

In the years that followed, Paulie wound up as a "seeing-eye bird" for a charming eccentric (Gena Rowlands), an entertainer for a restaurateur (Cheech Marin), the accomplice for a petty thief (Mohr) and finally, as a test subject for an unscrupulous researcher (Bruce Davison).

The film's final third covers Paulie's efforts to escape captivity and find Marie, who is now in her 20s. He's aided by a sympathetic janitor (ace character actor Tony Shalhoub).

Besides Eisenberg, who's wonderful, perhaps the film's biggest surprise is the fact it came from two virtual unknowns: director John Roberts and screenwriter Laurie Craig, who rarely resort to cheap humor and actually sneak in a couple of nice messages.

Of course, they're aided by a great cast. Rowlands is as good as ever, Mohr is very funny and Marin demonstrates some genuine charm.

"Paulie" is rated PG for a few scattered profanities, two vulgar flatulence gags and some slapstick violence.

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