FIREHOUSE DOG

PG
Reviews

An uneasy mixed breed of Hollywood satire and treacly children's adventure, Firehouse Dog is a mediocre mutt. Kid-and-animal movies are a perennial, but for every cute 'n' clever Monkey Trouble, there's a dozen of Benji: Off the Leash!

Exaggeratedly pampered Rex (played by four Irish terriers named after The Lord of the Rings' Arwen, Frodo, Rohan and Stryder) is the canine star of such films as Jurassic Bark and The Fast and the Furriest. One night when this valuable dog inexplicably has to do a parachute stunt from a real plane, rather than in a studio with CGI, Rex plummets to certain death. Good thing that open-top tomato truck was passing by to break his fall! When trainer Trey Falcon (Dash Mihok) and an undefined movie person named Liz (Bree Turner) mount a search, all they find is Rex's trademark spit-curl toupee. What else can they conclude but: Rex in Peace.

The reports of death highly exaggerated, the anonymous Rex now wanders through a Toronto filling in for some unnamed city. He eventually hooks up with 12-year-old Shane Fahey (Josh Hutcherson), son of valiant fire-chief widower Connor Fahey (Bruce Greenwood). The virtually unsupervised Shane has been staying up all night playing videogames, ditching school and acting sour ever since the death of Connor's brother Marc--the previous chief of Firehouse 55 in the rundown Dogpatch district--six months ago in a suspicious blaze. The station's standard motley group of lovable losers--dim-witted hunk Terence (Teddy Sears), black family man Lionel (Scotch Ellis Loring), Latin spitfire Pepita, nicknamed Pep (Mayte Garcia), and overweight lieutenant Joe (a slumming Bill Nunn)--do their best to be the sulky Shane's surrogate family.

Rex--who becomes known as Dewey thanks to a prop tag he's wearing--bonds with the boy after a skateboard trick or two. Helping to rescue a firefighter from a burning factory makes the dog a local celebrity and the firehouse's new mascot.

That could have been a character-driven family feature in itself, but the screenwriters and triple-Emmy TV director Todd Holland--whose two previous theatrical films, Krippendorf's Tribe (1998) and The Wizard (1989), are as clunky as his episodes of "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Malcolm in the Middle" are sublime--shoehorn in a predictable plot about an arsonist and an evil real-estate developer. A few stabs at relationship drama between father and son are undone by the complete lack of familial chemistry and a charmless performance by a child actor who, to his credit, has been better elsewhere.

Moments of the other, satirical movie emerge when Rex daydreams about love-of-his-life Lola, a Dalmatian with Bo Derek cornrows, or when Trey throws a lavish funeral complete with fake rain and such luminaries as the Aflac duck and the Taco Bell Chihuahua (presumably not the real ones). Mostly, however, this is a slow, flat-footed film where even firefighters don't seem to move with any urgency. Every fart, poop, burp and snore joke gets pulled out and marked off like it's on The Official Kids' Movie Checklist. Being far from the fun-filled, fish-out-of-water comedy of its marketing campaign, Firehouse Dog should be put to sleep before it can do the same to audiences.