I’m not sure if I’m giving Beverly Hills Chihuahua a full star instead of the half star it probably deserves because the ersatz Busby Berkeley musical number in the trailer isn’t actually in the film, or because the sight of a small child being terrorized by an apparently living donkey piñata offered me some slight amusement. (That the piñata is actually powered by a CGI iguana and rat, voiced by Paul Rodriguez and Cheech Marin respectively, is an admitted downside.) In either case, it’s not like I’m recommending the film. Come on, it’s a talking animal picture, and talking animals are only funny in small doses, like in Road to Morocco (1942), Road to Utopia (1945) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).
Beverly Hills Chihuahua is probably perfectly fine entertainment if you’re 4 years old. It also may satisfy viewers with a marked propensity to “ooh” and “ahh” whenever an animal shows up on a movie screen doing something one doesn’t expect an animal to do. For anyone else—at least anyone else who isn’t a blood relative of director Raja Gosnell, whose directorial career started with Home Alone 3 (1997) and has consistently maintained that tradition of quality—this is likely to seem like the longest 98 minutes ever spent in a theater. The fact that there’s approximately 20 minutes of actual plot plays into this.
The story focuses on Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore), a pampered, snobbish Chihuahua belonging to a filthy rich cosmetics mogul (Jamie Lee Curtis), who also has a largely worthless niece, Rachel (Piper Perabo, The Prestige), whom Chloe casually detests. Contrivances contrive to make sure that Chloe gets left in the care of Rachel. This, of course, results in much mirth and finally adventure when Rachel—who appears to boast slightly less intelligence than your average turnip—takes Chloe on a vacation to Mexico where, gosh darn the luck, Chloe gets lost. The bulk of the film then follows Chloe’s trials and tribulations, while Rachel—with the aid of hunky gardener Sam (Manolo Cardona) and his moxie-filled, Chloe-smitten Chihuahua, Papi (voiced by George Lopez)—endeavor to find her.
Of course, all this is fleshed out with cute encounters various and sundry—like the Cheech rat and the Rodriguez lizard—to achieve feature-length status. Along the way, questions will be posed. Will former police dog Delgado (voiced by Andy Garcia) regain his sense of smell and find redemption? Will Chloe learn the value of being a “real dog?” Will Rachel learn responsibility and fall for the hunky gardener? Will Chloe see what a diamond-in-the-rough the besotted Papi is? How many lame pop songs can be plastered onto the soundtrack? How many pop-culture references—“Talk to the paw,” “Say hello to my leetle friends” etc.—can be worked into the dialogue? Truthfully, only the last two qualify as questions. The rest are givens.
One’s tolerance for this will be predicated on a taste—or lack thereof—for talking CGI animals. I confess that mine is low to the point where I spent a good deal of the movie thinking that in less enlightened times those responsible for making animals talk would have been burnt at the stake as sorcerers. In the case of Beverly Hills Chihuahua, that’s why those times were known as “the good old days.” Rated PG for some mild thematic elements.