When you see the phrase “inspired by a true story,” you assume the accompanying movie will have the intimate perspective of someone affected by adversity. Eight Below, Disney’s sled dogs in peril picture, is a case of false advertising. You get a true story only told by someone rattling off headlines and first paragraphs: “Dogs Abandoned in Snow,” “Owner Sad About Dogs Missing.” The only adversity worth following, which the movie doesn’t cover, is how Paul Walker kept his dreamy tan in the Arctic cold.
The year for some reason — the actual events happened in 1957 — is 1993. Walker plays a guide at the National Science Foundation’s base in Antarctica, where he and his eight sled dogs cover the terrain, helping with expeditions. Bruce Greenwood plays a big-shot scientist who comes to the cold continent looking for the remains of an asteroid or something else out of a Michael Bay movie. The men head out on the sled, encounter a heap of trouble, and barely return to headquarters. Article continues below
As the NSF crew flees, an exhausted Walker has to leave his beloved dogs behind. After he’s recovered, the young man is horrified to discover that he can’t return. The winter has made travel too difficult, meaning the dogs have to survive in the snow and brutal cold. The movie proceeds to profile the dogs’ plight and Walker scrambling for months to get his furry friends back.
Neither plotline is effective. Walker is not a terrible actor, but he’s asked to carry half the movie, which is like asking Jessica Alba to bench press 300 pounds. Walker can play macho jerks and little else -- he’s the poor man’s Greg Kinnear -- so he’s out of his league playing bereaved. Not that he gets much help from the supporting cast or writer Dave DiGilo. As Walker’s best friend, Jason Biggs’ lame attempt at the goofy sidekick is a reminder that his career peak involved violating an apple pie. Greenwood only provides the required gravitas for a movie like this, so parents feel as if they’re not wasting an entire evening. DiGilo’s screenplay further dehumanizes the movie by having nearly every one of Walker’s encounters consist of a character providing a plot update or inspirational/sensible drivel. You can’t go back; it’s too dangerous. My love for these animals will keep me safe. You know, that kind of stuff.
The dogs fare better even if they are in the harsher conditions. Their scenes of scrapping for food and protection are fun, sometimes exciting. But just a few months after March of the Penguins captured the hearts and dollars of Americans, the scenes have an uncomfortable familiarity and reek of cashing in. It’s fitting. Eight Below runs on assumptions (You love dogs, and you love March of the Penguins) and shop-worn clichés, but offers no compelling reason to care again. It’s familiar, it’s run of the mill, and the writing and performances all too willingly follow suit. Call the movie “uninspired by a true story.”