The Austin Chronicle

Show Dogs

Rated PG, 92 min. Directed by Raja Gosnell. Voices by Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Stanley Tucci, Shaquille O’Neal, RuPaul, Alan Cumming. Starring Will Arnett, Omar Chaparro, Andy Beckwith, Kerry Shale, Oliver Tompsett, Natasha Lyonne.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., May 25, 2018

In this stupefyingly inane buddy-cop comedy featuring a cast of talking canines, a macho NYPD rottweiler named Max goes undercover to compete in a prestigious Las Vegas dog show as part of an assignment to bust up an international animal smuggling ring that’s stolen a precious baby panda to be sold on the black market. Tagging along on a short leash is his initially resistant human partner Frank (Arnett), an oddly tanned FBI agent who eventually becomes the Turner to Max’s Hooch as the two bond to become a team. In preparing Max for competition, a reticent Frank proves to be dog’s best friend by not only applying bikini wax to the area surrounding the hound’s private parts, but also fondling the animal’s nutsack repeatedly to acclimate him to the inevitable unwelcome physical inspection of the crown jewels during the rounds. In later explaining how he was able to endure this humiliation at the hands of the judge without growling, Max reveals that he simply went to his “happy place.” And who says they don’t make movies for kids anymore?

When things get slow in Show Dogs – which is roughly for its entire running length – you’re likely to find yourself hypnotized by the CGI transforming the dogs’ muzzles into humanlike orifices that articulate the inarticulate dialogue in Max Botkin and Marc Hyman’s script. It’s mesmerizing, really, in a creepily anthropomorphic way: those bared lips, those dark gums, those razor-sharp teeth (so many!), all synchronized in a way to suggest the unsettling appearance of a critter on the verge of showing signs of rabies. This special effect was cute over 30 years ago, when a sweet little pig charmed movie audiences in a lovely tale about the power of kindness, but it comes off as mouthy here without any similar gravitas to legitimize it.

As for the vocalizations provided on behalf of the movie’s canines, Ludacris’ feisty Max comes off best, while Stanley Tucci’s French-inflected accent for the papillon Philippe, a spoiled former champion who misses the high life, laughably sounds like the love child of Maurice Chevalier and Gérard Depardieu. But when RuPaul makes a cameo oral appearance midway in the film as a ratchet bitch with a banjee swagger, rest assured that’s not the last you’ve heard from her, with a reappearance near the end signaling the possibility of a sequel. Oh no, she didn’t! If this film had any lick of dog sense, it would just sashay away.

Editor's note: this review was written and published before the studio announced it was recutting the film due to audience complaints.

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