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Film review: Call of the Wild 3D

Published: Thursday, June 11 2009 3:15 p.m. MDT

The press materials for "Call of the Wild 3D" claim that the film is not a remake of Jack London's many-times-told novel.

But the movie still uses character names and themes from that material, which bears the same name (sans the "3D" part, obviously). And it even uses some of London's prose in a few of its scenes.

But even comparing itself to the beloved book makes this clunky and supposedly family-friendly drama seem worse than it already is.

Relative newcomer Ariel Gade stars as Ryann Hale, a spoiled-rich young girl who's been sent to stay with her grandfather, Bill (Christopher Lloyd), in Montana.

(Bizarrely, the girl's parents are off in Europe and are rarely, if ever, heard from the entire time she's there.)

While Ryann loves her grandfather, she's bored by the no-frills lifestyle he enjoys in his snowy, small-town community.

She perks up when an injured wolf turns up, though. Ryann insists the hybrid beast is a dog and helps nurse the animal — which she has dubbed "Buck," like London's canine hero — back to health.

She also befriends a local teen, Jack (Kameron Knox), who wants to use Buck to lead his dog-sled team. Unfortunately, the mean Mr. Heep (Timothy Bottoms) also has plans for her new "pet."

Lloyd, who can ham it up in the wrong material, tones things down — and his scenes with Gade have some appeal.

However, the rest of the movie is a real mess.

Director Richard Gabai and screenwriter Leland Douglas misuse the other cast members — who include veterans Wes Studi, Joyce DeWitt and Veronica Cartwright.

And an anti-smoking message — while appreciated — is delivered with such a heavy hand that the film starts to feel like a "Truth About Tobacco" infomercial.

"Call of the Wild 3D" is rated PG and features some disturbing violent content (including violence against animals), derogatory language and slurs, scattered profanity (mostly religiously based) and some brief drug content and references (prescriptions and toxic chemicals, including poisons). Running time: 90 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com