Hotel for Dogs

January 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

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.

Over Her Dead Body

February 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Eva Longoria Parker, Paul Rudd, Lake Bell
Directed by: Jeff Lowell (debut)
Written by: Jeff Lowell (“John Tucker Must Die”)

Remember the scene in 1990’s “Ghost” where Patrick Swayze keeps Whoopi Goldberg from going to sleep by singing “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” repeatedly while she tosses and turns in bed? Take that scene and stretch it over 95 minutes and you have yourself “Over Her Dead Body.” It’s just as annoying but not nearly as funny.

Taking a break from “Desperate Housewives,” Eva Longoria Parker (yes, she’s added Tony’s name to her moniker) stars as Kate, a blushing bride-to-be who is crushed to death by an ice sculpture on her wedding day.

Landing in some sort of limbo waiting room after she dies, Kate can’t shut her mouth long enough to get instructions from an angel as to what she has to do next. She decides for herself that her calling in the after-life is to protect her ex-fiancé Henry (Rudd) at all costs.

In solitude for the last year, Henry has no will to get over the tragedy despite his the constant – and mostly annoying – support from his sister Chole (Lindsay Slone), who wants him to find happiness again. To help out, she drags him to Ashley (Bell), a caterer and part-time psychic who hopes to communicate with Kate from the beyond and get her to give Henry her blessing to move on with his life.

Henry, of course, is unconvinced that Ashley can do anything for him. What he doesn’t know, however, is that his sister has given Ashley one of Kate’s old diaries, so she can con Henry into thinking she knows more about Kate than she really does. The plan backfires when Ashley and Henry begin to fall in love and, in turn, stir up jealous feelings from his corpse bride. Thinking she is there to save Henry from heartbreak, Kate decides to destroy his relationship with Ashley by dipping into her ghostly bag of tiresome tricks.

Playing like a supernatural novela, “Dead Body” is dead on arrival. Director/writer Jeff Lowell, who was responsible for the equally inferior “John Tucker Must Die” has no idea how to get passed the predictability of the story and dry performances by Longoria Parker and Bell. Their rivalry never becomes more than the equivalent of a girl-on-girl hair-pulling session in a middle school locker room.

Egos may be bruised a little with the critical potshots “Dead Body” will soon get, but fear not for Longoria Parker. If she can manage to stop drifting away from Wisteria Lane, maybe she can continue to hide the fact that her acting skills will never amount to more than catty antics.