Even if you weren’t a kid in the ’70s, when the first “Benji” movie came out, you’ve likely seen the movie about the heroic, scruffy little dog who saves the day when two of his favorite kids are kidnapped. Sure, it was corny and contrived, but the dog stole the show. And our hearts.
It’s the same with the new remake, which debuts March 16 on Netflix. Once again, the biggest reason to tune is Benji himself. Brandon Camp, son of the original’s writer and director, Joe Camp, directs essentially the same story with some modern updates and a New Orleans setting.
Benji is a stray who’s taken in by two small children, but their strict “we’re on a budget” widowed mom (Kiele Sanchez) won’t let them keep him. (In the original, it was a strict single dad who stood in the way of Benji becoming the family pet.)
Just try not to cry when Carter (Gabriel Bateman) tearfully puts the dog back out on the street (in the pouring rain!) rather than let his mother take the little guy to a kill shelter. Since the film begins with Benji’s entire family being scooped up by the dog catcher (and being left alone on the street), the movie pretty much has us in tears from the beginning.
The story kicks into motion when Carter and sister Frankie (Darby Camp) interrupt a robbery: They’re kidnapped and it’s up to Benji to save the day.
Benji can do some pretty remarkable things. Not only can he maneuver a chair to reach a locked door, he can hold a key in his mouth and unlock it! Whatta dog! Since producer Jason Blum insists that there’s no CGI or special effects in the movie, that’s all Benji doing the stunt work.
The kids are a little more obnoxious than their ’70s counterparts. And the kidnappers — the Draco Malfoy-esque Sid (Will Rothhaar) and his brother Titus (Angus Sampson of the “Insidious” films ) — are a lot meaner, as is their scary one-eyed Rottweiler. In the end, of course, they’re no match for Benji.
There’s a scary moment during the finale where it appears Benji has been seriously injured. It’s another tear-inducing occasion — until we see that Benji is just fine. (Kids, if your dog gets a serious conk on the head in real life, please take him to the vet to get him checked out.)
I rate the movie 2.5 paws, but for Benji himself? Four paws up!