15 March 2009 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: Hotel For Dogs
Being Man's best friend, I understand the slew of movies that are made these days in honour of our canine friends, from the chihuahuas in Beverly Hills Hollywood or the Labradors in Miami, to the Roadside Romeo in Bollywood, I guess you just can't put a good dog down, as they continue to endear even through the most cliché of stories.
For dog lovers, the appeal here is the whole range of dogs being put on screen, coming in all shapes, sizes and attitudes, trained of course to execute those stunts meant to show their intelligence beyond the heels, stays and roll overs. The other draw of course is how makeshift technology in the form of contraptions made using almost everyday objects, can be used to keep the dogs occupied and entertained. Unfortunately, almost every mechanical device has been shown in the trailer, leaving nothing new nor surprising, talk about letting all the cat out of the bag. Wait, make that almost every plot device shown that you can sleepwalk through the film and still know what it's all about.
Andi (Emma Roberts the Wild Child) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin) are two orphans who have in the last few years gone from foster family to foster family, because they happen to be two misunderstood kids who find it almost impossible to live with their new foster parents whoever they are, especially if they come in the form of would-be performers completed with lack of intelligence and inflated egos like the Scudders (Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon hamming it up in full camp regalia). They find it increasingly impossible to keep the fact that they are keeping their pet dog Friday (a terrier similar to Milo in the Mask) from the Scudders, and in one night time escapade, find themselves with Friday and a couple of strays hiding in an abandoned hotel from the authorities.
So begins their very slow starting mission of saving abandoned dogs from around their city, with the help of pet shop employees Dave (Johnny Simmons) and Heather (Kyla Pratt) and a friendly neighbour Mark (Troy Gentile from Drillbit Taylor), who is mostly underutilized and in it like a sideshow extra. And with any typical dog movie, the enemies are always the folks who operate the dog pound, who according to stereotype just cannot wait to imprison dogs and then put them to sleep when their lease expires under their charge.
To add certain gravitas here, there's Don Cheadle whose Bernie the social worker works at having Andi and Bruce find proper homes, and to serve as that Deux Ex Machina mouthpiece toward the end, exposing director Thor Freudenthal's weakness in wrapping this up naturally. And there were a couple of moments which I thought could have been brilliantly explored and not left at just a fleeting and passing remark, where Andi realizes that their inexplicable assistance rendered to stray dogs, happens to be a mirror reflection of their own predicament in being passed from place to place, longing for a perfect, functional home that they could never have, and as such relying on her brother's technical wizardry to make it all complete and worthwhile for the dogs under their charge. Like adoption, very rarely do people want to take on anything but a puppy, if not for its cute factor, but for the reason that they can be nurtured, versus the adage that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks.
Hotel for Dogs, being a Nickelodeon movie, has to subscribe to the same old feel good and feel safe formula to make it suitable for all families. In that you can't find anything that will rebel against the established order of the genre, so much so that you're inclined to go along with the formula as dictated. Like a good pet dog.