Starring: Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Don Cheadle
Directed by: Thor Freudenthal (debut)
Written by: Jeff Lowell (“Over Her Dead Body”), Robert Schooley (“Sky High”) and Mark McCorkle (“Sky High”)
Call off the rescue mission. “Hotel for Dogs” is in so much trouble from every filmmaking aspect, not even a massive St. Bernard with one of those little brandy-filled kegs around its neck can save it from dying a cold and bitter death.
Based on a book by Lois Duncan, who jumps to another genre after writing the novels that inspired the “I Know What You Did Last Summer” slasher series, “Hotel for Dogs” is an absurd family film about a pair of foster siblings who spend their time rescuing dogs and housing them in an abandoned hotel.
Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin) have been shipped to five sets of foster parents in the last three years because of behavioral issues. They’re social worker Bernie (Academy Award nominated actor Don Cheadle, who’s doing some cinematic slumming here) tells them that if they act up again, he will be forced to place them separate homes. Getting out of their present situation isn’t a bad idea (they’re living with two rude wannabe rockers played by Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillion) but Bruce is too dependent on his big sister to handle another home on his own.
The kids, however, decide that they’re love of dogs far outweighs the advice of their case manager. Instead, they start saving stray dogs off the street (who just happen to all be purebred, clean, and well-trained) by rounding them up in a condemned hotel near their home. They get help from other kids in the neighborhood who seem to be the only ones in the entire city to notice the vacant hotel has new tenants.
Starting a doggie day care is far easier than one would imagine. Since Bruce is a novice inventor (a trade he learns from his father although nothing else is said about the kids’ parents), he creates a network of pooch-friendly machines and simulators that allow the pets to walk themselves, feed themselves, and play catch all on their own. Forget that at the beginning of the film Andi and Bruce have to hustle a pawn shop to afford food for one stray dog, now they can somehow feed them by the dozens.
While Roberts and Austin are likeable as actors (she is Julia’s niece and did fairly well as the title character in 2007’s “Nancy Drew” and he is a Disney Channel veteran), you can’t help but wonder who really stunk up the joint, the dogs or the humans. When one of the characters exclaims, “We’re out dogged,” you’ll know you’ve had your fair share of puppy jokes for the day. Easily-entertained young children and biased dog lovers might enjoy the cuteness of man’s best friend, but when a script is this pointless you have to wonder why producers didn’t just print it out and use it as a puppy pad during production.