Firehouse Dog (2007) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: PG for mild crude humor and language
Running Time: 111 min.
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Bruce Greenwood, Dash Mihok, Bill Nunn, Scotch Ellis Loring, Bree Turner, Mayte Garcia, Hannah Lochner, Claudette Mink, Teddy Sears, Steven Culp, Shane Daly
Director: Todd Holland
Screenplay: Claire-Dee Lim, Mike Werb, Michael Colleery
Review published April 8, 2007
Todd Holland is no stranger to family entertainment, directing such television fare as "Malcolm in the Middle" and one dated, but relatively popular 1980s video game flick, The Wizard. His veteran skills in terms of handling actors and packaging it all together helps to save Firehouse Dog from certain calamity. However, he's never been able to overcome his use of glossy, cliché-ridden action, drama, and comedy, which essentially makes the film as a whole predictable, artificial, and trite. In other words, in true firefighter fashion, Holland contains the fire from consuming the entire production to ashes, but by letting it rage for a whopping (for a family film) 111 minutes, the damage incurred proves too severe to consider it salvageable.
The dog of the title doesn't start out in a firehouse; he's Rexxx, the world's most famous animal star, a highly-trained pooch whose action films sell millions. However, all of that gets left behind when Rexxx suffers an accident that has everyone thinking he's a goner for sure. Eventually, Rexxx finds his way to the city, but gets into trouble yet again, luckily rescued from the roof of a burning building by fire captain Connor Fahey (Greenwood, Deja Vu), who later lets his son, Shane (Hutcherson, Bridge to Terabithia), adopt Rexxx as the family pet, dubbing him "Dewey", as that is the name on the prop tag the dog has on.
Eventually, the mutt proves himself in the line of duty, becoming not only the station's mascot, but also gaining good publicity in the media. However, his new role in saving lives may not last much longer, as the attention almost certainly will bring back his original owners, while the station is in danger of closing down altogether.
Firehouse Dog benefits from a quality cast, especially in the lead roles portrayed by Josh Hutcherson and Bruce Greenwood, both of whom lend a certain credibility and depth in what could have been one-note characters. The supporting cast is also solid, showing the requisite camaraderie to establish they are a family unto themselves, including the main dog (the credits list four different dogs playing Rexxx at various points, probably depending on task) and with the good energy and visual appeal brought in by Holland, the makings were there for a good movie to emerge if the script were just right.
Alas, the script never strives to be anything more than a mish-mash of other family fare, featuring cartoonish moments for the young kids (including some crude humor involving Rexxx farting in bed, belching, or taking a dump in a pot of poorly-made stew), and the father-son bonding moments later in the film. While those may be par for the course, the real detriment to the film is the injection of the arson subplot, which involves such things as murder, mayhem, and an extremely unlikely scenario whereby every building not already condemned in the city is being destroyed in piecemeal fashion.
Strangely, the arsonists (it's not hard to figure out who the culprits are once they are introduced) leave the fire station standing until the end. From a logic standpoint, I'm not sure what sense this makes, especially since the firefighting unit are the ones who would surely see that they have a master arsonist at work (Connor is suspicious, but completely stymied). It also doesn't make sense to shut the station down, as the area the station covers has been established time and again for being a hotbed for fire activities -- if these neighborhoods don't need a fire station, who in the world does?
Firehouse Dog is probably only of appeal to those who aren't expecting anything closely resembling intelligent thought or depth in characterizations in their family entertainment, preferring to look at it as just a cute movie full of cute moments with a cute dog and cute kid. For everyone else, it plays as dumb as it looks, and it looks mighty dumb.
©2007 Vince Leo