Watching “Show Dogs,” I kept thinking about My Talking Pet. It isby far the best money I have ever wasted on a stupid smartphone app in a fit of boredom. With minimal effort, it allows you to upload a photo of an animal, record some dialogue and create a video that makes it look like your pet is talking. For the low price $2.99, you can put your hamster in a sombrero and use it to command your roommate to do the dishes, or have your monocled dog tell your date you’re running late for dinner.
It is far cheaper and less time consuming than catching a screening of “Show Dogs,” which is basically “My Talking Pet: The Movie.” And it is without question more enriching to the soul.
The blame for “Show Dogs” falls on the shoulders of director Raja Gosnell, the evil mastermind whose affinity for talking-dog movies brought us 2002’s live-action “Scooby-Doo” and “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” It’s a boilerplate buddy-cop comedy, only one of the officers is a Rottweiler named Max (Ludacris), a tough-talking lone wolf who speaks entirely in lame quips and dog puns. Similarly antisocial is his human counterpart Frank, played with an inexhaustible supply of humility with Will Arnett. Despite their protestations, Max and Frank are paired up to crack the case of a kidnapped baby panda.
Yes, it recalls“Turner and Hooch,”a movie “Show Dogs” references so many times you start to feel nostalgic for it. And when you find yourself longing for “Turner and Hooch,” things are very bleak indeed.
Max and Frank figure the baby panda is being sold on the exotic-animal black market, and where better to infiltrate that shadowy underworld than at the Canini dog show in Las Vegas, the world’s most exclusive canine competition? They hatch a half-baked plan to use the dog show as an investigative cover, entering Max into the competition so they can sniff out the smugglers with the help of dog-show expert Mattie (Natasha Lyonne).
It’s a simple enough plot to follow, but “Show Dogs” is so padded and uncertain of itself that characters are constantly explaining the plot as it happens in exposition. “Oh, so they’re using the dog show as a front for animal smuggling!” Thanks, we got it.
The supporting canine cast is no wittier. Stanley Tucci provides a ludicrous French accent to pampered papillonPhillipe, Gabriel Iglesias voices a sycophantic pug, Jordin Sparks plays the Australian shepherd love interest and noted thespian Shaquille O’Neal gives words of wisdom to a dreadlocked dog named Karma. Then there’s Persephone, a dog of indeterminate gender with whom Max is visibly disgusted when it’s suggested they breed. It reads like a trans joke even before you realize RuPaul is providing the voice.
Those actors, at least, get to hide behind their canine counterparts. There is no respite for Arnett or Lyonne. That they are so game in a movie so unsalvageable makes the secondhand embarrassment all the more acute.
The only possible value a movie as joylessly rote as “Show Dogs” can offer is as a weekend babysitter, a guaranteed 90 minutes of air-conditioned child distraction. But it fails on even that front, its constant stream of slapstick frequently interrupted by age-inappropriate jokes that betray a staggering lack of judgment. Once the film hits the Strip, it plays like a commercial for the Las Vegas tourism board. You’ll find such kid-friendly gags as a tweaked-out alley dog looking to score some catnip, a play on Ukrainian sex trafficking, dog bikini waxing and incalculable references to testicle grabbing, one such instance scored to “Sexy and I Know It.”
For whom is this fun? Not to be crude, but to quote the movie itself in what might have been a rare moment of self-reflection, “I cannot polish the turd but perhaps I can roll it in glitter.” Oh, “Show Dogs.” There isn’t enough glitter in the world.
Barbara VanDenburgh, USA Today Network
Global Road Entertainmentpresents a film directed byRaja Gosnell and written byMax Botkin and Marc Hyman. Rated PG (for suggestive and rude humor, language and some action). Running time: 92 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.