This talking dog movie, mostly live action but with animated elements, is a real mutt, a would-be family movie so flat-pawed that it will fail to entertain viewers at any point on the age spectrum. Unlike director Raja Gosnell’s previous effort along similar lines, “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” no classic but at least tolerable, “Show Dogs” is simply a bad idea poorly executed, as awful on the canine side as “Nine Lives” was on the feline. Our pets deserve better than this cruddy kiddie take on “Turner & Hooch” and “K-9.”
The premise is that dogs (and apparently some other critters, like a trio of kibitzing pigeons) can converse with each other, though humans can’t hear them. Despite that interspecies problem, dogs are employed at the NYPD, the most notable of them, a Rottweiler named Max (voiced by Chris Bridges, doing New York gruffness). When Max’s intervention upsets an FBI sting on a bunch of crooks transporting a stolen baby panda for auction, he’s partnered up with chief agent Frank (Will Arnett) to pose as entrants in a Las Vegas dog show where, it’s been discovered, the panda will be sold. Since Max is not exactly prize material, he breaks an old champion on the show circuit, French Papillon Philippe (Stanley Tucci), out of the dog pound and persuades him to offer a few pointers.
At the show, things naturally go Max’s way. He’ll do well in the various competitive events, always by running them in unorthodox ways. He will find a romantic interest in Daisy (Jordin Sparks), who initially finds him irritating (Frank will similarly bumble into an incipient romance with dog groomer Mattie, played by Natasha Lyonne). And, of course, the partners will not only unmask the villain behind the plot to sell rare animals to the highest bidders, but prevent his escape in a big airport confrontation.
Lots of stars chip in voices for other dogs at the show—Alan Cumming as Dante, the arrogant current champ; Gabriel Iglesias as Sprinkles, a pug who’s one of Philippe’s biggest fans; Shaquille O’Neal as Karma, one easygoing Komondar; and RuPaul as Persephone, who has secrets of her own. None of them offer significant compensation for the lame dialogue, lackadaisical direction, overwrought turns by the human actors (especially Arnell) and animation of the dogs’ moving mouths that’s about as impressive as what you’re likely to see every day in TV commercials. That the picture also has a chintzy look generally is simply to say that it’s no more impressive in terms of overall execution than it is in terms of its (lack of) inspiration.
The one surprise in “Show Dogs” comes when Max tries to romance Daisy with a rooftop spaghetti dinner modeled after “Lady and the Tramp.” That’s hardly unusual, but one of those pesky pigeons, who have flown from New York to Nevada to observe his adventures, points out that he’s cribbing the bit. What the bird doesn’t mention is that it’s taken from a far superior movie, one that the makers have not been wise to invite comparison to. These “Dogs” deserve the old vaudeville hook.