Movie Review: ‘SHOW DOGS’ is ‘TURNER & HOOCH’ meets ‘MISS CONGENIALITY’
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
A grizzled, by-the-book FBI agent is forced to partner with a loose cannon NYPD detective in order to solve the case of a nefarious trafficker. This is basically the logline of most classic buddy cop movies we were raised on. The difference is that the plotline has gone to the dogs – literally. In director Raja Gosnell’s SHOW DOGS, that rogue detective is a slobbering Rottweiler and their case involves animal trafficking. It’s the less gritty, more CG’d TURNER & HOOCH meets MISS CONGENIALITY. Covertly edgy, but always with a sugar-coated uptick, this family-friendly action-comedy is audacious, absurd and absolutely cuddly.
A baby panda has been kidnapped by an underground criminal syndicate and it’s up to two wildly mismatched alpha “dogs” – human FBI agent Frank Nichols (Will Arnett) and four-legged NYPD detective Max (voiced by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) – to sniff out the mysterious culprit at the head of this organization. The pair get wind that the next target will be the winner of the world-renowned Canini Invitational Dog Show. So they high tail it to Las Vegas to go undercover in a world that’s unfamiliar to both of them. Under the tutelage of show dog handler / FBI consultant Mattie Smith (Natasha Lyonne), the pair must set aside their differences, transforming themselves into a winning team.
While this is nowhere near the daring subtext of Gosnell’s crème de la crème of talking dog movies, BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA (a film I attest was ahead of its time), SHOW DOGS makes some pretty bold statements about real-world issues – but even bolder ones about unwanted groping and intrusive personal grooming habits. Screenwriters Max Botkin and Marc Hyman infuse the film with good lessons for their young target demographic about teamwork, trust and not underestimating someone or judging them by their outsides. Rather than saddle Mattie – the lone human female – with a hefty dose of “you wait in the car” garbage sexism, they let Mattie get scrappy in the inevitable big action climax. That’s big for young girls watching.
In the pantheon of puppy pictures, this may not rank at the top. That said, kids will absolutely adore every minute of its cuteness and rambunctious spirit. Much to most adults’ chagrin, as with most movies of this ilk, it relies on stereotypical fart/ butt jokes, pratfalls and trendy pop culture references to keep the kids interested. But for all the adults who cringe at the (kibbles and) bits involving farting in a tub, scooting on the floor, diving into a pool and dabbing (yes, the Papillion dabs), the kids in the audience will eat every moment up. Their positive praise was vociferous during my screening. For adults, the humor will vary. I was caught off-guard by the sheer and utter lunacy of Philippe the aforementioned Papillion (voiced by Stanley Tucci) condescendingly lecturing Max on why he needs to shape up. He emphatically shakes when delivering his dialogue – and that kind of commitment to the bit is what sustains the film’s energy. Plus, Max’s “happy place” montage will assuredly play like a more bonkers version of Dumbo’s “Pink Elephants” sequence for those in the audience who might be intoxicated or inebriated.
Gosnell’s film is above the grading system. It’s beyond critical reproach. Parents know what they’re getting into when they purchase a ticket to watch this: they’re bringing joy to their child, who’ll think this is the greatest movie of the year.
SHOW DOGS opens on May 18.