C-

Firehouse Dog

The innocuous family film Firehouse Dog runs 111 minutes, which puts it a solid 21 minutes over what should be the legal limit for this sort of thing. Here are a few suggested edits that would have resulted in a leaner, more tolerable movie: Cut any scene in which the dog does something dogs can't do, including skateboarding, sliding down a pole, cleaning up a boy's room, working a PlayStation controller, scaling a wall to back-flip over a fence, and dropping from an airplane into a tomato truck without injury. Cut any shot in which the dog has his movements or expressions "assisted" by herky-jerky CGI effects. And lastly, lop off the entire arsonist-whodunit subplot. At bottom, Firehouse Dog is just another story about a boy and his dog, and as last year's heartfelt version of Lassie made disarmingly clear, it's best to keep things simple.

As the film opens, the pompadoured mutt Rexxx enjoys a pampered life as Hollywood's premier action dog, the star of such hits as The Fast And The Furrier and Jurassic Bark. (Poor Gina Gershon gets second billing on the latter.) When a stunt goes awry, Rexxx winds up orphaned and presumed dead in the big city, reduced to a mangy-looking alley dog that stinks of rotten tomatoes. After displaying a knack for heroics, the pup finds a home at an historic firehouse run by Bruce Greenwood, who struggles to keep budget cuts from swallowing the place. Greenwood entrusts the dog to the care of his son Josh Hutcherson, but the rebellious, self-centered boy initially doesn't want anything to do with it. But the dog's persistent heroism (and monkeyshines) wins Hutcherson over and helps keep the vultures from circling the firehouse.

All dog movies are obliged to hit certain notes: The dog has to be orphaned or adopted, it has to rescue at least one person, someone comes to take it away (sniff), its companion (always a boy; horses are for girls) has to say a temporary goodbye (double-sniff). Finally, the dog is always its master's salvation, never the other way around. Firehouse Dog rings every last bell, but it adds all sorts of unnecessary embellishments to the formula, perhaps in a desperate attempt to hook kids who presumably want more than Lassie or Old Yeller can give them. When Rexxx turns up in sunglasses or rides a skateboard, it's impossible not to think of The Simpsons' "Poochie The Rockin' Dog," a laughably unnecessary cartoon character that executives create to punch up The Itchy & Scratchy Show. The lesson here is that dogs don't need "attitude." They're loveable enough on their own.

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