April 11, 1994 12:00 PM

Martin Short, Charles Grodin. Mary Steenburgen, Dabney Coleman

Fans of the popular series of children’s books about Clifford, the oversized, overenthusiastic dog, are in for a disappointment. The Clifford in this Clifford isn’t that Clifford.

This Clifford is a too-smart-for-his-own-good 10-year-old boy intent on making life miserable for anyone who crosses him. Essentially, Clifford is Problem Child with an adult (Short) playing the bad kid. The casting may have sounded inspired, but it doesn’t work. Short, whose manic weirdness seems better suited to cameos than to extended roles, comes across here as a disturbingly perverse gnome. The whole movie has a not-so-faint whiff of desperation to it, as if everyone involved (the normally reliable Grodin, Steenburgen and Coleman) hoped that they could make it work through sheer bellicose energy. They can’t. Hamstrung by a script that is neither funny (Clifford’s substituting tabasco sauce for tomato juice in a Bloody Mary provides the movie’s biggest laugh) nor fanciful enough, Clifford just sits on the screen, as flat as last week’s seltzer. (PG)

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