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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Todd Holland|
scr Claire-Dee Lim, Mike Werb, Michael Colleary
with Josh Hutcherson, Bruce Greenwood, Bill Nunn, Dash Mihok, Scotch Ellis Loring, Mayte Garcia, Teddy Sears, Steven Culp, Claudette Mink, Hannah Lochner, Bree Turner, Matt Cooke
release US 4.Apr.07, UK 20.Jul.07
07/US Fox 1h51
A boy and his dog: Dewey and Hutcherson
Disarmingly engaging, this lively tale of a boy and his dog is made with just a bit more spark than most kids' movies. The strong performances and sharp dialog more than make up for some corny effects.
Rexxx (played by four dogs named Arwen, Frodo, Rohan and Stryder--geddit?) is a pampered Hollywood pooch is presumably killed while filming a dangerous stunt. But he turns up in a strange city, where he soon connects with Shane Fahey (Hutcherson), the 12-year-old son of the local fire station captain (Greenwood). While his trainer (Mihok) plans a lavish funeral, Rexxx is using his smarts to become a vital member of the firehouse team (with Nunn, Loring, Garcia and Sears). But the station is due for closure, and an arsonist seems to be on the loose.
The story's various levels keep us intrigued, even if it all fits together a bit too neatly. In addition to the main plots, there's a strong theme about coping with difficulty, as Shane's family has been split by the departure of his mother and the death of his uncle (another fireman). As a result, Shane is always in trouble, but his busy dad doesn't have time to help, or to keep up with the housekeeping. There's also a nice subplot involving rivalry with another station, which plays out on various fronts. As well as a viciously accurate satire of Hollywood excess.
Where the film stumbles is in its attempt to add some computer-enhanced zing. The silly effects sit at odds against the otherwise realistic style. Rexxx is a great dog without the digital trickery, and he interacts wonderfully with the human cast. Hutcherson and Greenwood give fine, open performances, with flourishes of personality from the side characters--comical, sinister, romantic, whatever's required.
Meanwhile, Holland's witty directorial eye makes the most of the script's terrific observational humour, much of it surprisingly edgy and subtle. The message about moving on and stepping up to responsibilities isn't laid on too thickly, and there's actually a realistic and helpful examination of grief and guilt. But in the end, this is still a shamelessly cute dog movie, so no wonder it's so shamelessly entertaining.
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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