Somewhere between the first time Will Arnett gets bitten on the butt, and when Shaquille O’Neal shows up voicing a sheepdog that sounds stoned, a realization occurs:
“Show Dogs” is really bad, even for a talking dog movie.
This live-action PG-rated comedy makes such a minimal effort that at times it’s striking. Visual effects sequences seem unfinished. Jokes are written with pop culture references that are mostly forgotten. The normally reliable Will Arnett slips in and out of a New York accent, as if no one is telling him when the camera is rolling.
“Show Dogs” is just 90 minutes long, but you’ll swear entire days have passed. It’s similar to the experience of walking out of that “Chronicles of Narnia” wardrobe. Wait, how can it still be spring? I was in that theater for at least seven months …
The plot is a note-for-note reboot of the 2000 film “Miss Congeniality,” except with pet shows instead of a beauty pageant. Arnett is a cop who teams with an uncouth police rottweiler (voiced by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), who must infiltrate an animal theft ring at a dog pageant. The dogs all talk, but humans can’t hear them — though that fact isn’t clear until several sequences in.
The style seems frozen in time from the 1980s, with a Reagan-era vibe of good times during the chase scenes, as if a Pointer Sisters song is always about to break out. (Further evidence that the screenplay was pulled out of a time capsule: There’s a “Turner & Hooch” reference in the script. The Tom Hanks cop/dog buddy comedy came out 29 years ago.)
But there’s almost no sense of pacing. The filmmaking always seems to be in service of whatever piece of slapstick or one-liner is on the screen at the moment. And these jokes, which are highlighted as if with a spotlight, are terrible. The experience is similar to having a boorish seatmate on a plane, who responds to your lack of interest by just talking louder.
“Show Dogs” seems like an easy target for critics who take filmed entertainment too seriously. It’s a movie mostly aimed for indiscriminating young audiences. It doesn’t pretend to be more than a fun diversion. It co-stars Natasha Lyonne, a solid actress who deserves the easy paycheck.
But movies cost money, and time with your family should be valuable. So make a stand to Hollywood and vote with your wallet: We all deserve a better live action talking dog movie than this.