SHOW DOGS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Raja Gosnell

Stars: Will Arnett, Natasha Lyonne, Andy Beckwith, Omar Chaparro, voices of Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Alan Cumming, Stanley Tucci, Shaquille O’Neal, Jordin Sparks, Ru Paul, Gabriel Iglesias.

Worst In Show?

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There have been several action comedies in which a police detective has been partnered with a canine. The best of this subgenre is 1989’s Turner And Hooch, which starred a pre-Oscar winning Tom Hanks. There was also James Belushi in the inferior K-9. And the recent A Dog’s Purpose featured a more serious subplot in which a dog sacrificed his own life to protect his police officer master. This latest offering though is a forgettable action comedy that scrapes the doggy-do off the bottom of the kennel. Show Dogs is another of those live action films that feature cute talking animals, and audiences who loved films like Beverly Hills Chihuahua may get a mild kick out of this.

Frank (Will Arnett, from The Lego Batman Movie, etc) is an accident-prone FBI agent working undercover to try and expose an underground ring that is smuggling rare and endangered exotic species, like the kidnapped panda Ling-Li, out of the country and selling them on the black market. Just as he is about to make an arrest though Max (voiced by rapper Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), a maverick streetwise Rottweiler with NYPD’s elite canine unit, spoils the bust. And takes a bite out of Frank’s butt for good measure.

The FBI and NYPD are at loggerheads over jurisdiction in the case. But then evidence points to the prestigious Canini Invitational dog show in Las Vegas as providing an important link to the smuggling ring. Frank is reluctantly paired with Max to go undercover at the dog show and crack the case. Natasha Lyonne (from tv series Orange Is The New Black, etc) plays Mattie Smith, an expert dog trainer who works with Frank to help ensure a primped-up Max performs well at the dog show.

There are some elements of Christopher Guest’s brilliant mockumentary Best In Show here, as well as a canine version of Miss Congeniality, although Show Dogs, which has been written by Max Botkin and Marc Hyman (Meet The Fockers, etc), lacks the clever wit and genial humour. The juvenile humour here plays more broadly, with plenty of physical comedy, pratfalls and slapstick moments, and lame puns, some mild scatological humour, and forced sight gags.

This is the fourth talking dog movie from director Raja Gosnell (Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Scooby-Doo, etc). He is a dab hand at this sort of comedy, and he maintains a brisk pace throughout. But his direction here lacks flair, and the work from cinematographer David Machie is pretty bland visually, despite the glittering Vegas locations.

The CGI effects that provide the dubbing for the voices though is a bit lacklustre and appears out of synch, especially when compared to the effective use of the technology in Jon Favreau’s recent live action take on The Jungle Book or even the recent superior Peter Rabbit. Gosnell has assembled a stellar vocal cast that includes Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games, etc) as an annoyingly arrogant French poodle named Philippe, a pampered former champion of the circuit; Jordin Sparks voices Daisy, an Australian sheepdog; Gabriel Iglesias voices Sprinkles, an overly excitable pug; former basketball star Shaquille O’Neal voices a zen Komondor named Karma; Alan Cummings (Battle Of The Sexes, etc) provides the voice of Dante, a terrier; while entertainer Ru Paul provides the voice of Persephone, a dreadlocked pulli. A trio of pigeons follow Max around and provide much of the comic relief. But most of the voice talent seems to have merely phoned in their lacklustre performances.

Arnett looks uncomfortable throughout the whole thing and his performance lacks energy or enthusiasm.

Show Dogs is pretty forgettable stuff although the lowbrow humour and antics of the animals will no doubt appeal to younger audiences.

★☆

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