(DreamWorks) Emma Roberts, Lisa Kudrow, Don Cheadle, Jake T. Austin, Kyla Pratt, Kevin Dillon, Johnny Simmons, Troy Gentile, Ajay Naidu. Directed by Thor Freudenthal
I will admit to a severe soft spot for dogs. Put a few dogs in a movie and it’s an automatic win for me. Keep that in mind as you read on, gentle reader.
Andi (Roberts) and Bruce (Austin) are orphans as well as brother and sister. They live with a pair of dopey foster parents, Carl (Dillon) and Lois (Kudrow) who has aspirations of rock stardom with a slightly more ambitious reach than their talent is able to grasp. Lois’ idea of cooking is heating up the most disgusting frozen dinners imaginable, which the two understandably leave uneaten more often than not.
For someone wanting a rock and roll lifestyle, Lois has a fair amount of rigid rules for her charges to live by, one of which includes no pets. This is bad news as the two are devoted to their dog Friday, a lovable mutt taken to getting his meals wherever he can. He, like most dogs, is also prone to getting into mischief at the most inopportune times which makes keeping his presence secret from Lois and Carl a bit harder. However, fortunately for Andi and Bruce, the two of them are idiots so they manage to keep Friday nearby.
Although basically good kids at heart, Andi and Bruce have a penchant for getting into trouble, which keeps their long-suffering social worker Bernie (Cheadle) busy. He warns them, after the latest incident, that they can’t afford to alienate their current foster parents as keeping the two of them together would be next-to-impossible if they were returned to the orphanage.
On one of Friday’s misadventures, he is picked up by the local pound which gives people only 72 hours to pick up their pets before euthanizing them. The kids manage to get Friday out of there, only to have him lead them to an abandoned hotel where a couple of other homeless mutts reside. The soft-hearted Bruce convinces the more practical Andi that they could care for the three dogs there, and as you might expect the three dogs become more dogs right quickly.
Pet store employees Dave (Simmons) and Heather (Pratt), both seemingly cast out of the Disney Channel/Nickelodeon school of cute tweeners (although only Pratt has television experience, on the Disney Channel series “The Proud Family” as well as the BET series “One on One”), stumble onto the situation and are enlisted to help, as is would-be ladies man Mark (Gentile). In order to better care for the dogs, Bruce designs and constructs elaborate devices that take care of specific needs; means of feeding the dogs, disposing of their – ahem – waste products, throwing tennis balls and even a simulator to allow the dogs the sensation of driving in a car.
Like any kids movies, there are always mean-spirited adults wanting to spoil the fun of the kids and this movie is no exception, with the foster parents and the testosterone-overload head of the dog pound Jake (Naidu). The kids will need to use all their wiliness to outwit the adults…all right, it really doesn’t take much.
This is somewhat loosely based on a children’s book by Lois Duncan, who also penned the book that was made into I Know What You Did Last Summer, a teenage suspense novel that Hollywood turned into a slasher flick. Duncan openly despises that adaptation; I suspect she’s a bit more sanguine about this film which is far more harmless.
The devices invented by Bruce are marvelous and make for the best moments in the movie. Even hard-hearted adult critics will get a kick out of them, not to mention the young kids that are the target audience of the film. Also, the main dog actors are given distinct personalities and make for some real “awwww” viewing. The young juvenile actors are pretty much as you’d expect; white-bread, bland and freshly scrubbed. Pratt obviously got the memo that has circulated around Hollywood that all African American teen girls are to be portrayed as sassy and full of ‘tude.
Dillon and Kudrow, both marvelous actors in their own right, overplay their roles which is essentially the only option they had. Only Cheadle, one of the best in the business, comes off as sympathetic among the adult cast, and he makes of his role something better than it was supposed to be, with a nice little speech near the end.
My problem with most kidflicks of this ilk are that they have the same basic premise; kids are wise and committed, adults are stupid and greedy which means that the kids will win every time. I don’t have a problem with depicting kids as cause-committed or even smart, but I get tired of adults being portrayed as buffoons in movies – how are kids supposed to respect the adults in their lives when they are constantly told on television and in movies that adults are neither to be trusted nor respected? I wonder if that doesn’t have a lot to do with some of the problems that the last couple of generations have had in terms of dealing with authority and rules, as well as with issues of frustration and instant gratification. Then again, I’m getting to be a grumpy old man.
Still, this is pretty harmless stuff and even entertaining in places. As I said earlier, I’m a sucker for a movie with dogs and when you throw in the kids, W.C. Fields is probably rotating in his grave. Certainly this makes for good viewing if you want to keep your kids occupied for an afternoon.
WHY RENT THIS: Hey, it’s dogs. Some fun Rube Goldberg-like devices.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Typical kidflick conceit of stupid adults/smart kids.
FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of doggie doo-doo humor but otherwise suitable for everyone.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Many of the more than 70 dogs used in the movie were actually rescued from the pound. Several of them were adopted by crew members after filming wrapped.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a feature on the planning and execution of the doggie gadgets shown in the movie. As a nice touch, there’s a public service announcement on adopting pets from your local shelter. There’s also a linked website that will allow you to insert pictures of your own dog into a cover insert as well as into a special downloadable trailer.
FINAL RATING: 5/10
TOMORROW: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time