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‘Good Boy!’ plays dead

Dogs from outer space change one boy’s life

At least “Good Boy!” doesn’t leave a mess on the floor that you have to mop up with extra-absorbent paper towels. But you still want to roll up a newspaper and lay a bonk to the nose on everyone involved with this dog of a family flick.

Talking dogs should have more heart and humor than they do in this lame comedy from the Jim Henson “Muppets” factory.

It’s not for lack of talent, story or cuddly canines that “Good Boy!” lacks bark or bite.

The idea that dogs came from outer space to colonize Earth is cute enough, the canines themselves are even cuter, and the movie’s voice cast — including Matthew Broderick, Carl Reiner, Delta Burke and Brittany Murphy — is solid.

But like a collie scratching endlessly at the same flea scabs, “Good Boy!” claws monotonously at a few dumb gags, with the script by first-time director John Hoffman barren of wit.

If you go to the trouble of landing Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave to provide the voice of an imperious Great Dane, you at least ought to give the screenplay another pass to make sure she and her co-stars have clever things to say.

Based on a story by Zeke Richardson, “Good Boy!” stars Liam Aiken as 12-year-old Owen Baker, a misfit with a part-time job walking neighborhood dogs. Owen’s parents (Molly Shannon and Kevin Nealon) earn their keep by moving into old houses, renovating them, selling them for a profit, then moving on to the next fixer-upper.

Constantly on the move, Owen’s a sad kid who has trouble making friends, until he gets a stray mutt of his own, a terrier named Hubble (voiced by Broderick).

Turns out Hubble’s a scout from the Dog Star, Sirius, dispatched to Earth to find out how canines sent there thousands of years earlier have fared on their mission to take over the planet.

A fluke accident with Hubble’s radio equipment allows Owen to understand dog-speak. Suddenly, the boy can communicate not only with Hubble, but also with his dog-walking charges, Bernese mountain dog Shep (voiced by Reiner), Italian greyhound Nelly (Murphy), poodle Barbara Ann (Burke), and a boxer named Wilson (Donald Faison).

With a visit from Sirius’ supreme leader, the Greater Dane (Redgrave) and her Chinese Crested henchman (Cheech Marin) imminent, Owen, Hubble and the others conspire to convince the boss dog that canines have made good on their mission to dominate humanity.

The movie’s heart is in the right place, but “Good Boy!” plays out with a stilted bag of tricks, relying far too heavily on gags about dog poo and flatulence.

The digital effects used to make the dogs look as if they’re talking are almost too understated, making their speeches appear lifeless when they needed a bit of that floppy flamboyance the Muppets are famous for.

Maybe director Hoffman shouted “Play dead!” when he was supposed to call “Action!”