Ths story about a mega-movie star dog who gets lost and finds a home with the son of a fire chief is an uncomfortable blending of three different stories that neglects the one thing we want to see — the relationship between the boy and the dog.
Instead, we get pieces of three other movies, none of them very compelling. First, there is the father-son healing and reconnecting movie. Second, there is the satire about Hollywood and celebrities. And third, there is a “mystery” about an arsonist. The connecting link is a superstar superdog and the lonely boy who finds him, but that essential relationship is neglected and finally lost in the mishmash of overstuffed and under-written distractions.
Rexxx is the dog star of such box office powerhouses as “Jurassic Bark” and “The Fast and the Furriest.” He is known for his trademark pouf of windswept bangs and beloved by fans all over the world. But when a movie stunt goes wrong, he is dropped into a tomato truck, and the bangs, which turn out to be a toupee, fly off in another direction. He is found by Shane (Josh Hutcherson of Bridge to Terabithia, who happens to be playing hookey that day to get out of a science test.
Shane and his dad Connor (Bruce Greenwood) are both unhappy. Connor’s brother Marc, who was the fire chief, was killed six months earlier in a fire. Connor has been given Marc’s old job, but can’t take Marc’s name plate down or move into his office. It does not seem to matter as the firehouse is scheduled to close, its members to be redistributed to other stations. Connor and Shane are too wound up in their own unhappiness to reach out to each other.
Shane at first can’t wait to get rid of the dog he thinks is named Dewey (the prop tag Rexxx was wearing). But then he sees Dewey do some wheelies on his skateboard and asks, “What else ya got?” Zip along to Rexxx/Dewey helping the firefighters find a buried colleague, and suddenly Dewey is bringing everyone together. He even has time to clean up Shane’s bedroom, quicker than you can say “Mary Poppins.”
It all feels patched together and as sincere as Rexxx’s toupee and as generic as the “mystery” behind the arson. It is as uncertain about its audience as it is about its story, with material that pushes the edge of a PG rating, including some crude language, a sad (offscreen) death, and intense firefighting scenes of peril and violence. “Boy and his dog” movies almost always work well, but this one fails because it forgets to make that relationship important and real.
Parents should know that this movie has very intense and explicit peril and violence for a PG movie, including fires and explosions. A child is in peril and (apparently) hurt. There are references to a sad death. Characters use strong and crude language for a PG and there is some potty humor. Kids talk about cheating in school and Shane is truant without any real consequences. Some audience members may be troubled by references to Shane’s mother abandoning the family. A strength of the movie is strong female and minority characters.
Families who see this movie should talk about how Shane, Dewey, and Connor all have to learn to move on and how that does not mean forgetting those who are gone, but honoring what they gave us. Why did Shane think he was not strong? Why did Dewey like being with Shane? Why did Shane like Dewey? What qualities would you say are in your DNA?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Air Bud and My Dog Skip and just about any one of the various versions of “Lassie.” Older viewers will enjoy seeing Greenwood and Culp playing brothers John and Robert Kennedy in the excellent Cuban Missile Crisis movie Thirteen Days.