Zeus and Roxanne

Directed by George Miller. Starring Kathleen Quinlan, Steve Guttenberg, Arnold Vosloo, Dawn McMillan, Miko Hughes, Majandra Delfino, Jessica Howell. (1997, PG, 97 min.)

REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., Feb. 7, 1997

If nothing else, the out-there premise of this tale of dolphin-canine bonding reveals interesting parallels between the creative processes of whimsical children and those of frazzled, espresso- and panic-addled Hollywood producers. Luckily for the “braintrust” behind Zeus and Roxanne, director George Miller (Andre, The Man From Snowy River) is an old hand at these family entertainment gigs and knows how to kludge even the most harebrained concepts into saleable product. He almost pulls it off again here, whipping up a bland but semi-palatable trash soup of leftovers from The Parent Trap, Flipper, and Benji. The pooch – played by a trio of animatronically cute Portuguese Podengos – is united in his improbable friendship with the dolphin by a grant-grubbing marine biologist/single mom (Quinlan) who’s studying interspecies communication. Complicating her efforts are a devious slimeball rival (Vosloo) and her borderline wild pubescent daughters’ plot to matchmake her with the widowed musician dude next door (Guttenberg). A likeable cast, among whom the almost oppressively pleasant Guttenberg gets the most screen time, complements the wan charms of a script by a team that includes Free Willy co-writer Tom Benedek. There’s some honest, unforced warmth here, and improbably credible romantic chemistry between Guttenberg and Quinlan – the latter possibly stimulated by a sexy Florida Keys setting. One senses and appreciates that all involved are soldiering on like good pros, trying to wrest a few shreds of honor from their ignominious situation. Sadly, this modest nest egg of goodwill is frittered away in the final scene – an over-the-top schmaltz orgy in which all loose plot threads are tied and lifelong rapture is assured to both human and animal protagonists in a span of roughly 60 seconds. In all fairness, Zeus and Roxanne isn’t quite the steaming load of bollocks it could have been, or even the silliest aquatic-themed film ever made (The Big Blue still owns that distinction). But it could only hope to achieve hit status in some entropy-sapped alternate dimension in which the Jane Austen catalog is plundered for teen comedy plots, Sheryl Crow is a musical superstar, a dissembling, Eddie Haskellish hayseed is the most powerful person on the planet, and … um, never mind.

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