HOTEL FOR DOGS
**1/2 (out of 5)
January 16, 2009
Emma Roberts as ANDI
Jake T. Austin as BRUCE
Don Cheadle as BERNIE
Johnny Simmons as DAVE
Kyla Pratt as HEATHER
Troy Gentile as MARK
Lisa Kudrow as LOIS SCUDDER
Kevin Dillon as CARL SCUDDER
Directed by: Thor Freudenthal
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I love a good dog flick, but I will admit that Hollywood is probably flooding the market with these films right now. In the past three and a half months, we’ve seen four major motion pictures featuring dog antics. And while “Hotel for Dogs” is cute enough for the family audience, it’s not nearly as good as “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” “Bolt” or “Marley & Me.”
“Hotel for Dogs” follows two orphans in a big city who are getting in trouble with the law as they are passed around from foster home to foster home. The kids soon find a purpose when they start rescuing stray dogs and holding them in an abandoned hotel. As the dogs settle in, the kids find the first family they’ve had in years.
Where “Hotel for Dogs” fails in the wake of the other dog films is that the pooches are nothing more than a MacGuffin for the kids’ story. Generally in these kind of films, the human characters are secondary and really aren’t as interesting as the four-legged kind. “Hotel for Dogs” gives the mutts plenty of personality, but every so often, the story has to fling back into the lives of the kids. That’s when I’d lose interest.
There are quite a few names in this film, although it seems that most of them are just collecting a check to pay their mortgages. Lisa Kudrow plays the foster mother, and she’s pretty dreadful. Of course, her movie career is only slightly worse than David Schwimmer’s. I think she’s still paying karma back for “Marci X.”
Also slumming it is Don Cheadle, who is a very fine actor but manages to find himself below the radar quite a bit. At least he does a better job in the film than Kevin Dillon, who manages to give his career best performance this side of “Poseidon.”
Of course, taking top billing is Emma Roberts as the sixteen year old orphan Andi. Where Roberts has spent the last few movies (e.g., “Aquamarine” and “Nancy Drew”) in an awkward stage, she’s starting to grow up nicely. Forget her father Eric Roberts (even with his recent part in “The Dark Knight”), she is really starting to look like her aunt Julia. Keep your eye on this girl, if not in this movie, than in what she does next.
There’s also a strong message in this film, which is that we shouldn’t forget the orphans. Sure, it’s a nice message, but it’s so heavy handed in the movie that it was hard to stomach. Too many times, they made the not-so-subtle comparison between the stray dogs and the orphaned children. Okay! I get it! Everyone’s been left behind.
You might think from my caustic comments that I didn’t like this movie. I did, though, to a degree. I really did find the dogs adorable. But then again, it’s hard to go wrong with loveable dogs on screen. And I did bring my two sons, ages five and seven, to the film, and they loved it.
For the family audience, “Hotel for Dogs” will do. It’s a very common type of early year release. The story doesn’t click like many of the big holiday or summer films, but we all know that kids want to go to the movies year-round, don’t we? Right now, it’s really the best bet for a family crowd. However, once things warm up in the theaters, I think most of us will check out of the “Hotel for Dogs” and only remember it when it cycles through a cable broadcast years down the road.