Friday 2 March 2018

Pup Star: Better 2Gether (2018) - Movie Review

The plot: Dog won a singing competition. Her rival wants revenge. Rival kidnaps the dog and replaces her with a street dog, letting her take the spotlight as long as she throws the competition in the finale. The audience wonders if they can chew through their own jugular to escape the pain contained within this film.

I can’t really do a cast rundown of this one. Sure, it has some weirdly recognisable names like John Ratzenberger and Ziggy Marley in the cast list, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything specific about the acting in this thing. Partly because it’s pretty average across the board, but mostly because it’s hard to pay attention to the acting when the effects work is this distracting. The bread-and-butter of the Air Bud franchise is the effects, that CGI wizardry that is meant to make us think that the dogs on-screen are actually speaking English. It has been over ten years since the series went down this route, and in all that time, they never managed to achieve more than the Uncanny Valley. This film is no exception. I get that puppies are quite cute, doubly so if they can talk for some reason, but the way it’s realised here, it’s a lot more unsettling than it should be. Not for a single moment does it feel real, meaning that the lengthy and incredibly awkward musical performances never fit right.

Then again, when you’re dealing with a film featuring this kind of humour, it’d be difficult for anything to fit properly into the proceedings. Puns are usually the go-to form of joke writing for kids’ films, but rarely do I see a single film be this full-force in how painful these puns are. Singers called Lady Paw Paw and Kitty Purry, one of the judges for the contest is Simon Growl, there’s a dodgy bar called the Barkeasy; not even the Planes movies were this one-note with its jokes, I shit ye not. To make matters worse, aside from some incredibly lame slapstick, this is all the film really has to offer as far as laughs go. I get that this is a film aimed at really young kids, but I’m sorry, “it’s made for kids” is not a valid excuse for this amount of laziness.

And don’t even get me fucking started on the music. It being centred on an Idol-esque television contest is already a bad sign for how weak the songs will be, but this is a special kind of awful. For one, the music itself (with a singular exception, that being the country-rock song Rock ‘Em Dead) is completely plastic, gutless and while rather fitting for a story about manufactured pop idols, it doesn’t reach the point of being listenable. For another, I refuse to believe that these lyrics were written down at any point. The words combined with the wispy vocalising comes across like what happens when you try to improv a song, singing words just for the sake of filling up space and seeing how far you can get before you start to buckle. Bland instrumentation combined with even blander lyrics means that so much of the music here (and there is a lot of it) goes in one ear, bursts a vital blood vessel, and then goes out the other: It does damage but doesn’t stick around long enough to be pinned down for its crimes against sound.
Oh, and just to make all of this even worse, we have rap songs to deal with. Knowing how hip-hop has essentially become the musical genre in the United States, I get why this would want to get a piece of that pie. However, between the issues already mentioned and the incredibly stilted performances (the mouths move but little else does), this might be one of the whitest things I’ve ever covered on this blog. I feel like I need to re-learn how to enjoy music after sitting through this.

And then there’s the “story”, which manages to outdo its relative competition as far as utterly useless plotting goes. Nevermind how tired the whole ‘Prince And The Pauper’ narrative has become, it is also rather overused in the realms of talking animal movies. Ever watched Garfield 2? It’s the same bloody concept, one that relies on animals being interchangeable and nothing else. This is a plot that maybe, maybe, could have worked as a singular 20-minute TV episode. As a 90-minute film, on the other hand? This drags the audience around by a leash like so many dog performers onstage, going from musical number to musical number with little to no sense of pacing or even worth in what we’re seeing. 
So much nothing takes place, preferring to stick to lame puns and even lamer music rather than anything of real note, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to just walking the hell out of a film at the cinema. Less than halfway through, pretty much everyone in the audience (the vast majority of which were the film’s target audience) knew precisely how the film was going to end and they were not wrong. That definitely played into that, the idea that I could leave and still know everything that happened within the film, but there’s also a bigger reason why that urge cropped up. If this was straight-to-DVD, where the spawn of Air Bud calls home, I might have given this pass. But this got released in cinemas over here. Paddington 2 is still in theatres right now, and yet someone decided that this was worth bringing to the big screen. That is utter nonsense.

All in all, I am completely goddamn miserable having sat through this thing. The acting is weak, the effects work is nightmarish, the jokes aren’t even remotely funny, the music is among the worst I’ve seen in a cinematic release, and the very fact that this is a cinematic release genuinely upsets me. This is in no way fit for the big screen, and even on the smaller one, I would question why anyone would willingly sit through this for any reason other than snarking.

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