“This is my story. I ask you to listen with an open mind”, intones our narrator. A high speed car chase between feuding friends Tom Johnson (Matthew Modine) and Jeff Newman (Eric Stoltz) ends with the former killed in a fatal crash. One trippy reincarnation later, Tom awakens in the body of an adorable puppy, one of a litter of strays left orphaned when mom is nabbed by the dog catcher. Fleeing the animal shelter, our hero is briefly adopted by poetry-loving, homeless lady Bella (Collin Wilcox Paxton) who christens him Fluke. After Bella passes away, Fluke falls in with clever canine Rumbo (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), who explains how animals can communicate telepathically, and teaches him how to pee properly (“Three paws down while number four reaches for the sky. Now that’s class!”) and survive in the big, wide world. Haunted by visions of his wife Carol (Nancy Travis) and son Brian (Max Pomeranc), Fluke tracks them down but to his dismay, discovers Carol is now romantically involved with Jeff, the man who may have murdered him.
Although the premise resembles the Chevy Chase and Benji team-up movie Oh Heavenly Dog (1980), this is actually one of the few films based on a work by British horror novelist James Herbert. The other being Robert Clouse’s woeful adaptation of “The Rats”, Deadly Eyes (1982). Instead of horror, Fluke recounts a rather more whimsical and thoughtful fable that fits into a cycle of fantasies wherein uptight men learn the values of friends and family, which were so prevalent in the “caring, sharing Nineties.” A critical and commercial failure, the film curtailed the once promising career of Italian writer-director Carlo Carlei, who drew good notices for his offbeat thriller Flight of the Innocent (1993). After Fluke flopped, Carlei toiled for years on the script for Dino DeLaurentiis’ production of The Last Legion (2007). Today he is mostly active in Italian television.
It is perhaps unsurprising Fluke failed to find an audience since, if you’ll forgive the pun, it’s a very curious beast, torn between metaphysical aspirations, cutesy animal antics and sentimental family drama. And yet if one can accept these idiosyncrasies, the film proves an engagingly oddball, weirdly appealing hybrid. Cinematographer Raffaele Mertes imbues an essentially intimate story with a certain lyricism and panache, bathing the screen in golden hues and seemingly in love with the sweeping vistas of rural America.
Carlei’s use of roving doggy-cam invites us to see the world through Fluke’s eyes and he displays an eye for surreal poetry like the shot of a laboratory chimpanzee carrying a puppy to safety, or the moment Fluke sees Bella’s soul depart her body. Such moments sit uneasily alongside pee gags and Ron Perlman’s sub-Disney dog-knapping bad guy, but are worth mentioning since they suggest Carlei saw this project less a funny animal comedy than a magical realist fable a la Italo Calvino. Most of the film concerns Fluke’s vain attempts to communicate with his wife and son, an aspect that would be utterly lachrymose were it not for Comet, the incredibly expressive canine actor who conveys genuine emotion. Love, hate, longing and heartbreak are really visible in those soulful eyes, an extraordinary sight.
Incidentally observe how this trailer ignores the whole reincarnation angle and tries to sell this as a cute doggy movie. Click here for the trailer