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CJ7, an “alien toy dog,” isn’t so charming when it’s taking a machine-gun crap in the face of its new owner. And it’s a big turnoff whenever CJ7, the movie, lets the anthropomorphized fluffball get slapped, swirlied, and generally clobbered by whoever comes across it, with appropriate suffering registering on its saucer-eyed face. But for all the minor misfires in this sci-fi kids’ flick by Kung Fu Hustle writer-director Stephen Chow, it still manages to elicit a few smiles and deliver a touching message, if heavy-handedly. As in Hustle, Chow writes, directs, and stars in CJ7 as Ti, a construction worker who lives in poverty so he can send his son, Dicky (Jiao Xu), to private school. Ti can’t afford to buy Dicky the latest robot toy or keep him very clean, which earns Dicky the scorn of his classmates and even a teacher. Still, Dicky tries to be excited when Dad comes home from his latest shopping trip to the junkyard with a rubber ball—“It’s fun!” he explains to his puzzled friend, before agreeing that it actually blows. But his attitude changes when the toy, after a few signals from its mother ship and some crude CG, morphs into a tiny doggie body with a giant furry head and can do some pretty neat tricks. (Though not the extraordinary ones, such as turning Dicky into a star student-athlete, that the boy first imagines in an entertaining dream.) CJ7, despite the input of five credited writers besides Chow, is derivative, borrowing heavily from E.T. with elements of Zathura and classic Disney weepers. (Ti himself is Little Tramp-ish, though with an unfortunate tendency to scream lessons about acting dignified while poor.) And the film’s biggest conflict, the tension that unrelenting want creates between the bitter Dicky and his frustrated father, is resolved with tear-baiting predictability. What saves CJ7 is partly the cuteness of the critter itself, but mostly it’s the kids—all of the students, from an aviators-wearing bully to Dicky’s mischievous crush, have personality, and Dicky himself is a delight. Or, actually, herself: Jiao Xu’s a girl, and in her first performance she’s sweet, funny, and irresistible, enough to distract from the bits of Chow-ian superslapstick that the director occasionally sneaks in.