Ah, Fluke. Yet another bizarre, oddly compelling movie that has no right to be oddly compelling. Or bizarre, really. I mean, it’s a dog movie. All it had to be was a dog movie.
Like The Cowboy Way (which I’ve talked about in the past), I have been deluded into liking Fluke due to its presence in the Movieplex channel’s rotation. The Cowboy Way, The Flintstones, Brewster’s Millions (the one with Richard Pryor), The Big Picture, Big (no picture), Joe vs. the Volcano, Memoirs of an Invisible Man—all these movies, ranging from classic to underrated to okay-this-one’s-just-rated, made their home on a TV channel that I fondly remember.
…Okay, I’m talking about it as if it’s some bygone nostalgic channel, but it still exists as of 2023. All that changed is my TV-watching and at-home-being frequency.
Anyway, it used to be that whenever I was truly bored, I’d go to this station and hope to see something memorable, if not exactly always “good.” With some reliability, I could find something comfortable that could put me to sleep. Fluke checks both of these boxes.
The tagline of this poster reads, “Unleash your imagination…and come along on a magical journey.” Underneath: a dog wearing some big human shoes. What do you assume this movie is about? Just a little scamp, probably?
Well, it’s got this cosmic-ass outer space intro with a CGI Earth and CGI tunnels of mystery. I understand these things were all very fascinating and new then. A man dies after his car goes a-leapin’ off a cliff, and then he is awakened by…gross licking noises. Because now he is a puppy.
Could Fluke be the first brown dog in cinema history? Rin Tin Tin had a black back. Lassie had a white stomach. Wishbone only had brown ears. Fluke has brown everything. One is tempted to call this “progressive” until one sees that all of Fluke’s siblings are blond. And since he’s the “fluke” of the litter, that’s, if anything, regressive. And people liked Air Bud better…
Soon Fluke is escaping the kennel he was born in, using miraculous shards of his past-life human intelligence. Plus, when the janitor comes for him and shouts “YOU’RE HISTORY,” Fluke pees on him. Just awesome.
He’s soon taken in by a homeless woman who loves him well and whom he loves back. And then—get this—we learn the story of how he got his name. She plays that shell game where you put objects underneath cups and shuffle them around, and Fluke, again miraculously, picks the right one every time. She makes a lot of money that day as the people of the street gather around and watch wide-eyed. A snooty businessman goes, “Aw, it’s just a fluke.” Offended, the lady replies, “Well, he’s my little fluke.”
So far, this film is cornball, but it’s entertaining and genuinely actually a little heartfelt. Maybe I’m just saying that because I enjoyed Mac and Me. But it’s about to go downhill.
The homeless woman dies, and things go from cornball to maudlin. A LITERAL SPARK OF FATE comes out of her precious ring (which gives Fluke a flashback to the wedding ring of his past life) and the spark of fate leads him to where he must go next!
And then—oh my gosh. Then after that, the dogs start talking. I don’t know why this worked okay in Homeward Bound but made Fluke nosedive. Actually, I might have to take back that statement because I don’t remember Homeward Bound being any great shakes. Note, though, that audiences somewhat remembered Homeward Bound, whereas nobody remembers this…entity we’re looking at here.
Next thing we know, a voice is saying, “Rise and shine!” It’s Rumbo, a fellow dog companion! His voice: one of the corniest cartoonish VA jobs I’ve heard in living memory, with lines like, “Mmmmm-MM! I smell hungry with a capital H. It’s chow time! Let’s roll!”
Then they go to a Marta bus station—woah, this was filmed across the street from me!? am I famous!?—and go on living their scrappy street-dog lives. Fluke learns to call humans “two-leggers,” revels in the pleasures of the junkyard. He urinates in the big city, but does it wrong. Rumbo shows him how to do it and ends by saying, “Now that’s class.” What is the tutorial? What does Rumbo show him? I leave that to you to discover when you see this movie. It’s just one of Fluke’s joys.
It’s not long before Fluke begins to suspect that he had a past life. “I wasn’t always a dog,” he tells Rumbo, “and neither were you!”
“Right, last week I was Snow White!”
“Well, how do you know who Snow White is? It’s something you knew in your past, it’s something you read in a book!”
Ooh. That response is so clever it wraps back around to being brainless. Or so brainless it’s clever? Fluke might as well be asking, “Well, how do you say words in English? Dogs don’t even know English!” Or, “How do you even have telepathy? Dogs don’t have telepathy, and neither do humans, thus proving my ancient alien hypothesis!”
This argument is what makes them part ways. Fluke is captured by dognappers who are led by a man with a European accent, which is how you know he’s extra-evil. Leading to the most (uh) amazing (I guess) scene in the film. The one they plaster on the trailers like it’s inspiring.
Fluke is captured and sentenced to beauty product animal testing and he gets psychoanalyzed, or something, and his bizarro memories of his own funeral make all the animals go berserk! And then—RUMBO SAVES THE DAY! He crashes through the window! The guy in the leather jacket flees while the scientist faints! Rumbo presses the button that frees all the animals! Doves fly! Aw, a little straggler who can’t reach the ground is carried by a chimpanzee in what is perceived by the filmmakers as an epic and touching moment! In slow motion! And they’re still saying corny lines!!!
“Shoot the dog!”
“You can’t shoot the dog!”
Ooh, they shot the dog (Rumbo) and he’s dying, ooh, he’s lying down like the homeless woman did, ooooh…
Ooh, Rumbo was the brother of the black guy serving hot dogs earlier, no wonder he was voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, ooooh…
Wait, does that mean the black mentor character died halfway through the movie, as usual, ooooh…
After that tragic turn of events, Fluke runs on, leaving Atlanta for The Historic Town of Hopewell. A new phase of the movie begins, one where he lunges at a car Kujo-style not because he is evil, but because he subliminally recognizes his old family! The mom is terrified, but the little boy thinks this is awesome. Mom may be terrified now, but she’ll learn…this is the same dog who gave her a stalker phone call earlier in the film. See, he remembered her phone number, again subliminally, but he didn’t know human words, so all he did was creep her out. That all will change within the span of fifty-ish minutes.
Soon the dog injects himself into the home. Or should I say re-injects himself? For you see, this part of the movie can be summarized as, “Hey, my dad used to do that.”
But don’t forget the monologuing. Fluke tells the viewers in his now-adult voice, “Playing with Brian [his son], doing things I never had time for as a man, taught me how important time really was…” Ugh, ugh! Sappy! Not just sappy, but boring! Get it away! Eat more hot dogs from corner stands!
“She [his wife] was even more beautiful than I remembered. I would’ve given anything to tell her how much I loved her.” Vomit! Vomit!! Three times vomit!!!
But then, interrupting this weepy movie comes a bad businessman named Jeff Newman. He strides into the house, again in slow motion (!!), until Fluke leaps up in horrified surprise and bites him. Mr. Newman hates this and has no mercy! Then the boy Brian utters his award-winning, tearful line, “What are you doin’ to him!?”
Then Fluke is put out of the house. “Somethin’s wrong with that dog,” says Jeff Newman—THE LADY’S NEW HUSBAND!? And oh no, he even kissed her and the dog watched! Well, no, the camera watched. There weren’t any windows around for Fluke to see it. But I guess he must’ve heard it. Dogs have good ears, you know. He would’ve heard squelchy noises.
Fluke is saved by intrepid Brian hiding him under the bed. (I guess they’ll smell the dog hair and piss eventually but it’s working for now.) Then Fluke sneaks into the suspicious corporate building, workplace of evil Jeff Newman and Fluke’s past life. The plot thickens at last.
Fluke sits in the big chair…and the memories come flooding back. One night, Fluke Man got some mysterious papers. Then Mr. Newman came in being all evil, even looking all stereotypically evil with his red hair and goatee. That was the night of the big car crash that started this film and sent Fluke hurtling through CGI tunnels in the first place.
My oh my, it’s snowing outside. Back home, Mom is worried. She can’t find her son Brian! He can’t run around in that deadly cold! …Oh no, he is! He is running around in it! Now Mom and Fluke are both running around desperate to find him before he freezes!
OH NO, HE WASN’T LOOKING FOR BRIAN AT ALL! FLUKE GOT IN JEFF NEWMAN’S CAR AND BIT HIM AND THEY CRASHED! OH, THIS IS TERRIBLE!
“I didn’t care if I was dying or not,” the dog with a monologue says in the wreckage. “I’d had my revenge. And suddenly it came to me, and I remembered what really happened…“
In the office…
“We’re partners, Tom [Fluke Man].”
“Well, as department head of finance, I say that we’re not!“
Fluke Man THREW his own blue crystal award (or paperweight or whatever) in more slow motion (!!!!!)!
After that, they had a race of rage, trying to get back at each other! The race of man and their evil, competitive ways.
“It’s useless tryin’ to race ’cause you know I always win!” VWOOSH!
OH NO FLUKE MAN ALMOST CRASHED INTO THAT TRUCK, NOOO, STOP, THIS IS TOO DANGEROUS! OH NO HE KILLED HIMSELF AND IT’S NOT EVEN REALLY JEFF NEWMAN’S FAULT! HE JUST LOOKS EVIL!!! BUT REALLY HE AND FLUKE MAN WERE JUST THE SAME!!!!!!!! WAAAAAUGH I’M WEEEEEPIIIIING!!!!! MUCH LIKE JEFF NEWMAN DID OVER FLUKE MAN’S DEATH WAAAAAUGH!!!!!!!!!!
In the present, Fluke reflects, standing in the wreckage, “Even in death, I still had to help him…”
Fluke gives Jeff the magic lick after he sees his memories and the error of his ways. Jeff comes back to life! (Incidentally, do you know how many times I referred to this character as “Jack Newman” or “Paul Newman” in my first draft? The answer is “every.”)
“I can’t find him anywhere!” says a sobbing, floating image of the boy. “Maybe you can see him where you are, daddy. Please help me find him? Please?”
Oh no! The mom and kid find Fluke—pointing significantly at his own human gravestone! He’s not dying, though, he just sort of goes away.
“Of course I couldn’t get in the way of their happiness. Jeff would be there, in a way I hadn’t been.” And holding—a new dog!?
Fluke takes his pensive self to a beautiful scenic lakeside. “I didn’t know how to live as a man, and I didn’t know how to live as a dog…” The vomit returns. “Now I understand life is something to be cherished, in every form,” he says, giving us a bad Siddhartha impression, trying to teach us all a lesson. Get outta here, Fluke.
Then—and you better keep your eyes peeled for this— acorns drop on Fluke’s ear. “Rise and shine, squirt! Now, don’t let ’em catch you sleepin’ here!” says a familiar, cheerful voice. It’s…RUMBO AS A SQUIRREL! WOAH, THIS FILM GOT EPIC AGAIN!!!!!
The last scene of the movie is Rumbo’s most recent reincarnation (why he gets to keep his old voice and perfect memories of his past life, this movie makes no attempt to answer) telling Fluke, “We got a lot to talk about! But first, let me tell you somethin’ about bein’ a squirrel. Rule. Number. One…”
That’s the end. There’s a beautiful sunset behind it.
Apparently this movie was based on a book by James Herbert, who wrote The Fog. I’m not exactly sure that’s an author whose work is ripe for family picture adaptations, but you know what, I ain’t read it, so…maybe it is. Probably not, though, since Wikipedia states it features Rumbo dying by traumatic car flattening. I am happy to report that he still gets reincarnated into a squirrel at the end, though.
More kid-friendly than The Plague Dogs but less kid-appealing than, uh, basically any other dog movie targeting that demographic (oh gee, a dog who’s also a businessman…roll over Beethoven, you’ve got some stiff competition!), Fluke has an unfortunate but not-undeserved spot in forgotten movie canon. On the other hand, given that the link I shared currently has 37,000 views and counting on YouTube, some sort of a fanbase exists. It includes me. And that’s all that matters.
For more movie madness, try my perspective on Spaceballs and my unsolicited Blondie hot takes. Or, for even more way-too-in-depth media recaps, what about my excessive Ultimo review? …You know Ultimo, right? The manga? 2009-ish? Pretty robot boys? Anyone?