You know a movie is in deep trouble when it misspells its own title in the opening credits. That's what happens with Secret Agent Dingledorf and His Trusty Dog Splat (or “Spat,” as those credits say). How could no one have spotted that? And if they had, how could they not go back and fix it? Accurate or not, it sends the immediate impression that nobody who made this picture cared. Regrettably, the situation does not improve after that. This is a faith-based film aimed at young children, one whose oft-repeated message is “God don't make no junk.” You may have seen that expression in Facebook memes, which the story has all the depth of.
Bernie Dingledorf (Zackary Arthur) is a kid who aspires to be a superhero. He gets his chance after being recruited by Agent 001 (Paul Johansson) into a spy organization called T.W.I.T. that needs help bringing down an evil clown named Dr. Chuckles (Ryan O'Quinn). His gizmo, the Laugh Generator, will force people to ridicule and play mean-spirited jokes on each other. Bernie is immune to the substance that makes the Laugh Generator work, making him a perfect choice to go up against Dr. Chuckles. Assisting him are pals Lens Cap (Shiloh Nelson) and I.Q. (Cooper J. Friedman), as well as Splat (or Spat, or “Spalt” as it's spelled in the closing credits – spelling is not this movie's top concern).
Secret Agent Dingledorf panders to children, as though they'll be content to watch any half-baked, dim-witted slapstick comedy that's placed in front of their faces. The film is a string of bad puns and physical gags that were worn out decades ago. Food fights! Pratfalls! Clown mayhem! Dog flatulence! Making matters worse is that the actors who star in the picture are not good at physical comedy. Few things are as painful to watch as unskilled people attempting to go that broad.
Even more frustrating is the way director Billy Dickson tries to juice the proceedings up with non-stop sound effects. Every time a gag is supposed to be funny, there's an accompanying noise on the soundtrack. Secret Agent Dingledorf mistakes those noises for actual comedy, like kids will laugh at the mere presence of a “doink” or a bicycle horn. Clearly, Dickson and writer Bill Myers have a low opinion of children's intelligence. Rather than giving them anything smart, witty, or inventive, they rely on cheap gimmicks of this sort, hoping they will evoke a Pavlovian response.
After about 75 very long minutes, the story gets to the requisite heartwarming ending, which doesn't really warm the heart since any reasonably smart kid will already know it before they even begin watching the movie. Making fun of people is bad, it says, after all that time spent asking them to laugh at characters engaging in Three Stooges-level antics. The inspirational message clashes terribly with the endless slapstick, adding another layer of WTF?-ness.
As the father of two children, Secret Agent Dingledorf and His Trusty Dog Splat is the kind of movie I go out of my way not to show them. There are plenty out there that don't condescend to young viewers, that challenge their imaginations, that present a worthwhile theme for them to ponder. This, on the other hand, is a cheaply-produced work that treats its target audience with contempt. Kids deserve quality entertainment, just as adults do. They deserve more than Bernie Dingledorf and Splat have to offer.
out of four
Secret Agent Dingledorf and His Trusty Dog Splat is rated PG for rude material and language. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.