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MOVIE REVIEW

Alpha and Omega

3-D ‘Alpha and Omega’ is best when daring to be different

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By Tom Russo
Globe Correspondent / September 17, 2010

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Three-dimensional animated features are made for images like cartoon wolves gleefully hurtling down fur-raising mountain slopes using rotted-out tree trunks as nature’s toboggans. It’s a bit that “Alpha and Omega’’ opens with, then comes back to on an exponentially bigger scale. But when crowd-pleasers this automatic still feel flat, you know what kind of ride you’re in for with the movie as a whole.

Produced by indie studio Lionsgate and India-based Crest Animation, “Alpha and Omega’’ is sweet, if not fresh. Apple pitchman Justin Long (“Going the Distance’’) voices Humphrey, a middle-of-the-pack wolf who spends his days and moonlit nights goofing around in Canada’s Jasper National Park with buddies similarly destined for mediocrity. Hayden Panettiere (“Heroes’’) is Kate, the she-wolf who’ll never be more than a friend to Humphrey because of her leader-of-the-pack responsibilities. Alphas and omegas, we’re told, just don’t mix. The pair’s repartee is meant to reinforce this, but it’s hardly Bogie and Hepburn, never mind the allusive character names.

Another obstacle to love springs up when Kate’s father (Danny Glover) and rival pack leader, Tony (Dennis Hopper, in one of his final roles), agree that Kate needs to marry Tony’s himbo son, Garth (Chris Carmack). If she doesn’t, a turf war is imminent. But before the betrothed alphas can howl together — the movie’s semi-clever musical euphemism for mating — park rangers plug Kate and jealous Humphrey with tranquilizer darts, and ship them off to Idaho. Cue “Homeward Bound’’ riff, as the wolves make their way back to Jasper with help from a golf-playing French-Canadian goose (loose-accented Larry Miller) and his duck sidekick (Eric Price).

Unfortunately, none of these conflicts or predicaments is particularly compelling, and the unevenness of the visuals doesn’t help. At one moment, we’re treated to a striking shot of a Canadian Express train crossing a gargantuan gorge trestle. At another, we watch Kate do a “Dream Weaver’’-y slo-mo hair flip — only her hair doesn’t really flip. Not that it’s an original bit either way.

Quirky throwaways are ultimately what make the biggest impression here. The fleeting sight of tranqued-up Humphrey drooling in 3-D is as entertaining as the showiest frenetic stuff. And Vicki Lewis delivers some hilariously edgy quick hits as Kate’s rage-repressing mom. When a boy gets pawsy, she advises her daughter, “take those beautiful teeth of yours, go for the throat, and don’t let go till the body stops shaking.’’ It’s a smart case of the filmmakers daring to be different, rather than daring to challenge Pixar and DreamWorks.

Tom Russo can be reached at trusso2222@gmail.com.

ALPHA AND OMEGA

Directed by: Anthony Bell and Ben Gluck

Written by: Chris Denk and Steve Moore

Starring: Voices of Justin Long, Hayden Panettiere, Danny Glover, Dennis Hopper,

Christina Ricci, and Larry Miller

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 88 minutes

Rated: PG (rude humor)

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