By People Staff
August 08, 1994 12:00 PM

Thomas Guiry, Helen Slater, Jon Tenney, Frederic Forrest

Early on in this updated version of this a-boy-and-his-dog classic, Lassie whimpers. It’s a high, moaning sound, and it will instantly transport adult moviegoers—zap!—back to angst-ridden Sunday nights long ago spent kneeling in front of the television set. Would anyone figure out in time that Lassie was barking because Timmy had fallen down the well or was otherwise imperiled? They did, and they do this time too. Phew!

Actually there is no Timmy in this, the ninth Lassie feature film depicting that dog’s life (and let’s not forget the more than 600 TV episodes). There is, however, a Timmy stand-in called Matt (played by Guiry, who holds his own against his collie costar). He’s a city boy none too happy about moving to rural Virginia with his dad (Tenney), stepmother (Slater) and younger sister (Brittany Boyd). “No MTV?” he moans incredulously upon arriving at the family’s new house. “Why don’t we just kill ourselves?” Thanks, however, to the love and watchful companionship of Lassie (“What are you trying to tell me, girl?” he keeps asking the dog), the boy drops his rebellious punk act, learns to appreciate the simple pleasures of country life and develops a profound interest in sheep ranching.

Sound like one of those wholesome miniseries you find on the Family Channel? That’s exactly how it plays—albeit with a juiced-up soundtrack featuring such alternative bands as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alice in Chains, White Zombie and Smashing Pumpkins. Big warning: There are enough scary moments in this film (a fatal car crash, a vicious animal fight, Lassie taking a swan dive down a waterfall) that adults should be there to hold the hands of younger children and reassure them that Lassie absolutely will not, no matter what it might seem like right now, really die. (PG)