Monday, October 13, 2008

This dog was ALMOST cute enough to not have to be put down


In Disney's unabashedly silly talking-dog movie BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA, Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore), the ridiculously spoiled title pet, is swept away from her comfortable 90210 existence, when the impulsive niece (Piper Perabo) of her wealthy owner (Jamie Lee Curtis) combines dog-sitting with a vacation in Mexico. When Chloe gets lost south of the border, her scrappy Chihuahua admirer, Papi (voiced by George Lopez), embarks on a mission to bring her back home. While Chloe's pint-size dog in shining armor searches for his posh crush, she must contend with the rough-and-tumble side of life, learning a few important lessons along the way.


Directed by Raja Gosnell, who is no stranger to dog-themed live-action/CGI flicks (see SCOOBY-DOO), CHIHUAHUA is an amusing diversion that is custom-made for canine lovers. Barrymore and Lopez are pitch-perfect in their vocal performances, and they are ably assisted by a bevy of Latino talent, including Andy Garcia, Edward James Olmos, and Cheech Marin. Although the film doesn't give its human actors a lot to do, it doesn't matter much, since the dogs are the reason for the entire show. In fact, the more the movie concentrates on its furry protagonists the more giddily entertaining it gets, as exemplified by a fun, fantastical doggie musical sequence that serves as CHIHUAHUA's undeniable highlight. I have seen a lot of bad movies this year and will no doubt see a lot more, but the biggest surprise I've experienced is that Beverly Hills Chihuahua isn't one of them. It reminded me that there are some movies made that are not in fact designed to appeal to folks like me. And while that certainly doesn't excuse its many shortcomings, not the least of which its absence of monsters, superheroes or pneumatically-engineered babes, the bottom line is that at absolute worst Beverly Hills Chihuahua is inoffensive family fun.Drew Barrymore provides the voice for Chloe, a pampered Chihuahua who gets lost in Mexico when her temporary caretaker Rachel (Piper Perabo) decides to head south of the border for a weekend getaway with her girlfriends. Before Rachel can find her, Chloe gets kidnapped and thrown into a kennel where she is scheduled to fight a Doberman named El Diablo (Edward James Olmos). Thankfully, another dog named Delgado (Andy Garcia) intervenes, but not before Diablo's owner Vasquez (Jose Maria Yapzik) notices her diamond-studded collar. Slowly, Chloe and Delgado begin to make their way out of Mexico and back to her home in Beverly Hills, with Rachel frantically trying to track her whereabouts even as Vasquez hunts her down in order to steal her million-dollar collar. Writers Analisa LaBianco and Jeffrey Bushell seem at least to be aware that they're mining the dregs of "human" movies for their compendium of clich├ęs before they embrace them; including a storyline where bored lapdog Chloe is seduced by her passionate gardener Papi (George Lopez) is funny enough, but they go for broke featuring a dog with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, and much of it almost works because the rest of the movie is equally if not more ridiculous. Ultimately, I can think of only one intentional joke that I laughed at, which involves a mountain lion doing a double take (the first in animal history, if I'm not mistaken) at the sight of a growling army of Chihuahuas. But I found myself surprisingly amused by much of the rest of it, mostly because it's hard to believe that someone actually spent time coming up with the idea for a certain joke or plotline or, yes, a dog with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. ("Talk to the paw" – seriously?) Really, the only problem with the film is that every time you think it's over, something else happens, which suggests that a kitchen-sink approach to plotting was in fact the only way that the filmmakers could stretch their idea to feature length. Beverly Hills Chihuahua is by no means a good movie, but as plain-old bad ones go, it's as generic and inoffensive as they come. A silly 2 on my "Go See" scale.

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