“Show Dogs” is a new pedigree of lame animal comedy
Disclaimer: As of 5/25/18, Show Dogs has been re-edited to eliminate story elements that may have unintentionally acted in service towards helping groom children for molestation or pedophilia. This review reflects the original cut of the film which included these elements, and as such will stand to critique the film as it was originally intended for theaters before this controversy came to light.
In this cinematic day and age, the family film genre has evolved beyond a lot of the trappings that had formerly characterized it throughout the past few decades. In the 90’s, these movies were characterized with tropes popularized by movies like E.T. and Home Alone, with an emphasis on child empowerment and wacky animal antics. In the early 2000’s, these tropes were (for the most part) overtaken by a need to appeal heavier to adult audiences and a capitalization upon rapidly evolving computer technologies, as characterized through films like the Shrek franchise, among others. Yet, as it stands, the family film genre has improved for the better into the 2010’s, with a greater emphasis on quality and depth through emotion rather than how many fart jokes a person can cram into 90 minutes.
However, despite this age of advancement, certain films squeeze through the cracks that completely ignore this bar of quality. Movies like last year’s Nine Lives, Norm of the North, and even the much maligned Spy Kids 4: All the Time In the World are fascinating in that they feel completely unlike anything coming from this generation of filmmaking, almost solely for the fact that they have refused to change or advance beyond past generations. They feel like cheesy, cornball time capsules from an era long past at best and money laundering schemes by foreign agents at worst.
Show Dogs is of the latter category.
Show Dogs (released on May 18, 2018 and directed by Raja Gosnell of Scooby-Doo and Smurfs “fame”) follows the story of Max (Ludacris), a police dog with the NYPD who is forced to team up with a somewhat dopey FBI agent named Frank (Will Arnett) after a botched sting operation leaves the two hot on the tail (pun unintended) of an animal poaching ring. The two then are forced to go undercover at a prestigious dog show in Las Vegas, with their only way of stopping this nefarious scheme and saving a panda cub stuck in the fold being to come out on top and winning first place. With the “assistance” of a disgraced former show dog voiced by Stanley Tucci and an assumed diabetic (or should I say, dogabetic?) pooch named Sprinkles (Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias), they may have a shot.
Getting this out of the way at the outset, I fully realize that I am not a part of the core demographic this film is aiming for. I am aware of the fact that a lot of people who are going to see this film simply won’t care about the quality of it so long as there are a lot of adorable animals on screen cracking wise and looking cute. However, as a moviegoer seeing things from the perspective of your average audience member (and a person with a sense of how movies like this can work), Show Dogs pulls off the incredible feat of not really hiding the fact that it has nothing really there for the parents and older family members being dragged to this flick mentally kicking and screaming all the way.
From the opening set piece of the film, let alone the first five minutes of Show Dogs, this movie refuses to allow any form of silence or atmosphere to actually develop. It’s a trait that many crummy kid movies tend to share, wherein the filmmakers immediately assume that, if nobody is doing anything, if the plot isn’t moving at the pace of a spider monkey huffing Pixie Sticks through a can of Red Bull, then they’re failing at their jobs. The opening in question is an elaborate chase sequence, wherein Max and Frank are running after a poacher and constantly one-upping each other. In action, the piece is nothing but all three parties getting as many one-liners and dog jokes in as they can, all being topped off with an obligatory “Who Let the Dogs Out?” joke. Keep in mind, this is started off by Max arguing with a trio of CGI pigeons who barely serve a purpose to the overall plot and are acted in a way that makes them three of the most obnoxious characters I have ever seen in a movie of this caliber.
The rest of the writing in the film is of similar quality. The world building lacks any real sense of cohesion, seeing as (in the world of the film) dogs are sentient and capable of cross-species interaction, and humans are aware of this to the point of letting them operate independently on a police force… yet they cannot actually talk to dogs and otherwise treat them like actual, normal dogs? Most of the characters lack any depth, and some are literal stereotypes, with the henchman for our big bad as an overweight Ricky Gervais stand-in, loudly guzzling down sardine and mustard sandwiches while shouting stereotypical British sayings without any form of subversion or tact. If that isn’t lazy, I don’t know what is.
Nothing In the Rulebook…
However, regardless of the bland and stereotypical kid’s movie humor that one tends to associate with movies of this caliber, I feel that it’s important to note how many times Show Dogs goes out of its’ way to break the “Plan Nine” rule. For the uninformed, the Plan Nine rule is an unofficial rule of film making coined in an episode of the 90’s cult hit television series Mystery Science Theater 3000. Named after filmmaker Ed Wood’s infamous Plan Nine from Outer Space, the rule is simple: Don’t mention better movies in the film you’re making, or the audience will immediately disengage and find themselves wishing they were watching the film that was just referenced instead of your own. While this rule is (as mentioned prior) unofficial and therefore not necessary to making a good movie, Show Dogs is far more interested in namedropping and referencing other, more enjoyable films as jokes in lieu of utilizing these references to actually comment on the thing being referenced or even actually telling jokes to begin with.
One of the most egregious examples of this lazy excuse for humor comes in the form of a sequence early on in the film, in which Arnett’s character attempts to interrogate a poacher concerning the whereabouts of the missing, horribly unconvincing CGI panda cub. Getting nowhere, Arnett ponders aloud about switching from good cop to bad cop in order to get the information he needs…only for the poacher to quip about him spinning his head around, just shy of namedropping the LEGO character. As an audience member who was already skeptical of the film from the outset and made even moreso in the aftermath of the trite opening, the first thought that came to mind was how I would have much rather preferred staying home and watching 2014’s The LEGO Movie as opposed to the drek I had found myself slogging through.
Making matters worse is that the film immediately follows this line up with Arnett abruptly slipping into his LEGO Batman voice accompanied by a dark, moody orchestra sting. Admittedly, this was one of the few moments where the film came close to actually pulling off a decent joke, but it doesn’t change the fact that that “joke” solely relies on the viewer having seen both The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie. Of course, given the intended audience for this film, that joke would fly. However, as an adult viewer outside of that kind of mindset, it only serves as a reminder that you and your family/children could rather be watching family films with actual effort and thought put into them, as opposed to this farce of a film that devotes an entire training montage to a dog learning how to not bite somebody when have their nether regions inspected.
…Nowhere near as funny as it sounds, unfortunately.
It doesn’t stop there. Lady and the Tramp gets namedropped by the pigeons as Max and his semi-titular show dog love interest Daisy (an Australian Shepard voiced by Jordin Sparks) wolf down a hot dog and “recreate” the iconic spaghetti shot on a rooftop. That’s the joke. Max, at one point, says the line “This is ludicrous!”. He is voiced by a man named Ludacris. That’s the entire joke. At the end of the movie, a smuggled tiger (with a slight Indian accent, which is a given considering the film’s already spotty caricatures) rides a zipline down the Vegas strip, yelling out a line that goes something along the lines of “Now, this is the REAL Life of Pi!”
It’s a tiger. A tiger was in Life of Pi. Therefore it’s funny.
Speaking of Life of Pi, the CG work throughout the entirety of the film is practically a joke unto itself. Aside from a few characters that are entirely computer-generated (the pigeons, panda, and aforementioned tiger), CG is used to make the dog characters “speak.” This effect, much like the rest of the film, is slapdash, at times clashing with the flesh and fur animals and making it extremely obvious that all of this is a sham. Not helping any further is when the dogs occasionally turn completely animated, special note to a sequence early on in the film in which Stanley Tucci’s character starts to go down a runway, only to turn into a sub-Pixarian monstrosity and start walking on its’ hind legs while vogueing, culminating this most shameful display with a dab. It is an image beyond words and comprehension in regard to how poorly thought out it is and a testament to how this movie is far less interested in actually telling a story for the benefit of its young demographic. The film revels in stereotypical, trite humor and meme culture one would think died with the Alvin and the Chipmunks film franchise.
The Flea-Bitten End
What else is there left to say about Show Dogs? The story is a trite excuse for family, no less children’s, entertainment with themes and ideas that have been executed far more competently in at least fifteen films I can think of. The filmmaking on display is a novelty act of how little you can care about making a film for actual theaters (and that’s even if this film was made with the big screen in mind). The performances from the human actors are either aimless without any true direction or so one-note that they’re ultimately pointless. The voice acting is no different, with some of the cast sleepwalking through the picture and some actors taking things to the point of sheer obnoxiousness. The score feels cheap; the sets feel cheap. Everything here feels cheap. If you want to spend a day out at the movies with your family and cannot wait for Incredibles 2, you’re much better off taking your kids to Deadpool 2 than the steaming pile of dog turd that is Show Dogs.
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