As far as kids’ movies are concerned, there isn’t much that needs to be done in order to keep a child’s attention. And as far as Firehouse Dog is concerned, the filmmakers seem to have their bases covered. The movie is more or less harmless, and will keep your youngster occupied for a couple of hours. Of course, children don’t always have the best taste (trust me, my favorite movies at one point in my youth were Jurassic Park (1993) and Independence Day (1996)), so anyone above the age of 8 will likely have difficulty finding any merit in this boorish, sometimes odd, mostly clichéd excuse for a family comedy.
The movie follows the story of Rexxx, a famous Hollywood star, who also happens to be a dog (played by a quartet of canines named Arwen, Frodo, Rohan and Stryder, which makes one assume Bilbo had worms and couldn’t make it to the shoot). When a parachuting stunt goes wrong, Rexxx ends up falling into a tomato truck, which leads him to a small city where he runs into Shane (Josh Hutcherson, Bridge to Terabithia), the son of a local firefighter (Bruce Greenwood, Déjà Vu). No one recognizes Rexxx, since he lost his trademark wig in the skydiving mishap. And thus, Rexxx comes into Shane’s life at the psychological, pivotal moment when Shane and his dad’s relationship has become strained, and the father’s firehouse is about to shut down. Soon enough, Rexxx decides to become the firehouse’s mascot, using his stunt training to help out. You can probably get a good idea of where this is headed, since the film is akin to just about any other Wonderful World of Disney flick. There does happen to be a convoluted subplot here to spice things up just a bit, involving a scheme to burn down a number of buildings in order to build a football stadium.
With such a limited target audience, making the material effective isn’t rocket science, but it’s territory that’s been trampled a million times before. The only thing that keeps the film even moderately interesting is the sheer oddity of some of it, like the embarrassing attempts at broad comedy. There’s a scene where Rexxx, at the pinnacle of classiness, defecates into a stew, and there’s another where he is offered three pastel-colored poodles to presumably have his way with. The random peculiar moment, however, doesn’t make the film any better; such moments are lost amidst a sea of feel-good pap and recycled schmaltz. It’s no surprise that director Todd Holland has spent his career in television (his only big-screen films being Krippendorf’s Tribe (1998) and the Fred Savage video-game vehicle The Wizard (1989)), since the movie feels like it would be right at home on ABC Family.
As far as the film’s message goes, it is well-intentioned, but then again, most kids’ movies are. The idea that money and fame are nothing if you aren’t doing something truly worthwhile with your life is perfectly acceptable, but it’s a concept that was run into the ground years ago. Apply this idea to a dog, and it just turns silly. And the idea that this is some kind of parable on the heartlessness of Hollywood isn’t believable, since it’s basically generic Hollywood rubbish to begin with.
It’s slim pickings right now as far as kiddy flicks go, but despite this, there’s no real reason to see Firehouse Dog. Just hold on to your money for now, because a better family film is bound to crop up sooner or later. It shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish. Rated PG for sequences of action peril, some mild crude humor and language.
— reviewed by Justin Souther