By Ty Burr
Updated January 14, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST
  • Movie

Here’s a passage from the late Willie Morris’ 1995 memoir, ”My Dog Skip”: ”Cruising through the fringes of town, I would spot a group of old men standing around up the road. I would get Skip to prop himself against the steering wheel… while I crouched out of sight under the dashboard…. As we drove by the Blue Front Café, I could hear one of the men shout: ‘Look at that ol’ dog drivin’ a car!”’

The dry, humane grace of that scene is exactly what doesn’t make it into director Jay Russell’s big-screen adaptation of My Dog Skip. Instead, we get a serviceable time-passer for kids, grandparents, and poochophiles that feints toward the toughness of ”To Kill a Mockingbird” but stays well within Hallmark-homily territory.

As young Willie, ”Malcolm in the Middle”’s Frankie Muniz looks uncomfortable without any irony to latch on to, and a subplot about the black denizens of WWII-era Yazoo, Miss., is dropped before it can threaten to develop an edge. Worst of all, the Jack Russell playing Skip is allowed to mug à la ”Frasier”’s Eddie instead of behaving like an actual canine. Look at that ol’ dog stealin’ a movie!

My Dog Skip

  • Movie
  • PG
  • 95 minutes
  • Jay Russell