Monday, 9 July 2018

Show Dogs (2018) - Movie Review

The plot: Hardened police dog Max (Ludacris) is on assignment at a dog show to track down a missing panda bear and shut down an animal-smuggling ring operating out of the show. While on the scene with bumbling FBI agent Frank (Will Arnett), he will have to win the show if he's to have any chance at finding the panda. Good thing he has a host of other talking animals to help him on his mission, and oh dear God, you have no idea how bad this all is.

Arnett has pretty much nothing to do here. It’s kind of amazing how much screen time he takes up, and yet even with his interactions with Max, he barely leaves an impact. Same goes for Natasha Lyonne as an FBI dog specialist, who does little more than correct Frank in places and be a plank of wood for the film to bash the audience over the head with. Thankfully, though, the voice acting for the dogs manages to keep this from getting too boring due to the dullness of the human performers. Ludacris manages to translate his very lively personality to the role, and thanks to having a novelty single to promote Austin Powers: Goldmember under his belt, this still isn’t the goofiest shit he’s pulled movie-wise. Opposite him, Gabriel Iglesias and Stanley Tucci make for adequate sidekicks, with Tucci in particular getting the closest this film has to an actual emotional moment next to Oliver Tompsett’s Chauncey. It’s cheesy as all hell, but compared to the rest of the flick, it’s a welcome reprieve. RuPaul gives a nice glorified cameo, Shaquille O’Neal as the zen dog Karma is a far better fit than he has any right to be, and Alan Cumming as the conceited fashionista also works out well enough.

Director Raja Gosnell does not have the best cinematic track record, especially when it comes to talking animal movies. Yeah, he gave us the admittedly clever Scooby-Doo movies, but any credit there deserves to go to James Gunn (Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Belko Experiment, Tromeo & Juliet) for his genre-savvy scripting. On his own merits, he has given us not only the woefully out-of-step Home Alone 3, but also the nigh-on legendarily awful Beverly Hills Chihuahua as well as the live-action Smurfs movies. Is there any point in saying that this film doesn’t look good, with all that in mind? The effects on the animals has all of one good point to it: The facial work for Max is actually decent and they do well enough to give him enough expressiveness to work with Ludacris’ vocals. Everything else here is a goddamn trainwreck, looking about as high-fidelity as the animation of the titular dog in the Scooby-Doo movies. Said movies came out over a decade ago, meaning that this film looks insanely dated right off the bat. The whole time watching, I kept getting unhealthy flashbacks to the later works of Bob Clark like Karate Dog, which features about the same level of outright incompetence in showing dog stunt scenes. I give this film credit for not making the canine actors as stiff and uncomfortable as Pup Star did, but this still looks really damn ugly.

Maybe if the story and sense of humour were any good, the eye-watering visuals could be ignored to a certain degree. If. Well, no chance of that here either, as the jokes actually manage to make Pup Star look high-brow by comparison. We’re fortunately spared an overabundance of puns this time around, but the one-liners that are here will likely give you a chest infection from how much dust is coating them. Like… when you reach the point of rehashing McGruff the Crime Dog for your movie about a canine cop, you must be really friggin’ desperate for a chuckle, any chuckle. On top of that, we have frequent invocations of referencing superior films in the middle of your crappy one, even down to a mention of the two-faced cop from The LEGO Movie during an interrogation scene. Get it?! Because the lead is played by Will Arnett?! GET IT?!!!! For the love of all things tasteful, this can get annoying with its want to remind audiences of things that would be a much better use of their time than sitting through this thing. Especially since the plot moves slower than a snail on a treadmill. There’s enough padding here to outfit the Cleveland Browns for an entire season, and whatever developments actually happen are about as obvious as you can get. What?(!) The clearly suspicious guy is actually the bad guy?(!) What a twist(!)

And yet, even with all that in mind, we haven’t even gotten to the worst of it yet. Yep, for the second time this year, I have to address a rather problematic element to this supposed kids’ film… and somehow, we’ve sunk lower than potentially mocking people for having allergies. When this film was first released back in May, it raised many eyebrows over a scene that… ugh… I feel genuinely sick for even putting this to the page, but it’s a scene where Max is being told by Frank to just let another human touch his genitals. He tells Max to take his mind off of things and pretend that he’s anywhere else but in that room, having a total stranger fondling him. Going by the wording of this exchange across the numerous outlets that have reported on it, this definitely reeks of grooming behaviour, to the point where it shows a better understanding of the tactics of sexual predators than quite a few mature releases explicitly about the subject. It’s some serious Una-level shit. The bloggers pointed all of this out, and the studio actually pulled the film from cinemas to edit out the offending moments. I will say at this point that the screening I went to was for the edited version; I thankfully didn’t have to sit in a cinema and watch children be traumatized by shit like this.

But here’s the thing: While I acknowledge that the studio did the right thing in removing whatever the actual hell that scene was, there is still something worrying about it even getting to this stage. When approached about this fiasco, co-writer Max Botkin mentioned that the script he and Marc Hyman put together had been re-worked by thirteen other uncredited writers and that the offending moment wasn’t in the original script. I am willing to accept that as the reality of the situation, but… well, look at that number again. Thirteen uncredited writers, alongside Botkin and Hyman, Gosnell himself, a few producers, a cast full of semi-recognisable names, a DOP, two editors, and of course the studios behind the production itself. All of those hands involved in this film, and yet not one of them took a look at that scene and go “You sure this is a good idea?” They actively had to have it pointed out as a stupid fucking idea before anyone did anything about it. This film went to cinemas, containing a scene that could potentially do some serious damage to the children watching it, without anyone even questioning why said scene was here in the first place. At this stage, I frankly don’t care that it was edited out. The fact that it went to release with that in it in the first place has got me pretty riled up.

One of the reasons I started getting interested in doing film critique was out of a sense of moral obligation. Over my lifetime, I have watched films that have helped shape the way I look at the world and even at myself; I understand the power that the art of cinema has in its grasp, as well as the genuine good that it is capable of. I am also someone who will freely defend family films, and even take the time out to highlight the truly great ones. I don’t see difference in main demographic as a reason to not say that The Incredibles 2 is an amazing flick, or that Early Man is a rather witty piece of cinema, or even that Peter Rabbit had some rather fun and cartoonish moments to it that were quite enjoyable. I also make it a point to highlight child actors wherever I can, as I have seen quite a few younger actors that can hold their own against the more seasoned veterans of the industry; actors like Jacob Tremblay, Lulu Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Jaeden Lieberher and Finn Wolfhard have all shown incredible talent over the last few years, and I honestly think that the future is looking bright if they stick around.

Why do I bring all this up? To make for absolutely certain that I am understood on three things: One, that film has a way of influencing its audience, for better and for worse; two, that family films have the potential to cross the demographic barrier and be suitable for audiences of all ages; and three, that I am rather protective and proud of children in the cinematic racket. Put all of those together, and what do you think my reaction to something this heinous is going to be? To put it simply, I’m worried. I’m worried that something this obviously harmful was put through, and it was only through audience reaction that they realised their error. Or worse, they still haven’t realised it and only cut the offensive content to keep us docile. That something this wrong on so many levels slipped by so many people, after an exceptionally turbulent past couple of years where ‘sexual misconduct’ and ‘Hollywood’ have been shown to be uncomfortably close to each other, makes me fearful that this situation could happen again. That this level of awful could be repeated, and possibly not even be picked up on… until the damage has already been done.

All in all… I can only hope that we have reached the bottom of the talking animal barrel, because I don’t think my heart can take things getting any worse than this. The acting is decent enough, given the material, but between the atrocious effects work, the insanely lazy jokes and the outright apathetic pacing, this is a woeful excuse for entertainment. And just to make things worse, the people who made it are apparently so inept that they were unable to notice sexual abusive implications to their own narrative until someone pointed out the bloody fucking obvious! I had worries going into this, knowing the furore that had been built around it, but this is the kind of inexcusable dreck that I rarely come across on this blog. I was originally offered to review this film for FilmInk (which I had to turn down due to work scheduling conflicts), and if that screening actually featured the censored moments in question, I think I would have set my laptop on fire just venting my outrage at this trash. So instead, I’ll point out that this is a situation that never should have gotten to the point that it did, and the people who let it happen at all should be ashamed of themselves. Fuck. This. Movie.

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