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Beverly Hills Chihuahua / * (PG)

Posted Wednesday, October 8, 2008, at 7:20 PM

Its all gone to the dogs in Disney's latest feature film "Beverly Hills Chihuahua".
Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Raja Gosnell. Written by Analisa LaBianco and Jeff Bushell. Running time: 91 min. Rated PG (for some mild thematic elements).

I considered writing just a couple-word critique for this movie. Something like, "Ay caramba!" I also considered writing an entire full-length review using just the word "bark!" as if I were using dog language. But despite my poor opinion of the movie, I felt these approaches were cop-outs. If this movie doesn't deserve much serious consideration for all audiences, it is at least trying to provide an entertaining experience for kids.

"Beverly Hills Chihuahua" is not a good movie. It might have enough to it to satisfy younger viewers but leaves their adult chaperones a little bored and grasping to get their heads around the preposterousness of a cast of live-action talking animals. This is certainly not the first time we've seen animals talking in a live-action movie, and a very few of them actually pull off the concept ("Babe"), but Hollywood's fascination with personified animals is generally something only for the young in mind.

The surprising thing about "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" is the complexity of the story. The premise is basic--a rich California Chihuahua finds herself lost in the grimy land of Mexico and must rely on dogs and other animals she once looked down upon to get her home. But there are a surprising number of characters and events that inhabit this premise, especially considering its short running time.

We are introduced to Chloe, the title canine voiced by Drew Barrymore ("Curious George"), living in the lap of luxury and being pampered beyond all reason by her owner Aunt Viv (Jamie Lee Curtis, "Freaky Friday"). Viv is the aunt of Rachel (Piper Perabo, "Cheaper by the Dozen"), with whom she entrusts the care of Chloe when she goes to Europe on business. It is no surprise that Chloe becomes lost in Mexico while under Rachel's care. Nor is it a surprise that Rachel must enlist the help of Viv's landscaper Sam (Manolo Cardona) and his Chihuahua Papi--who incidentally has a crush on Chloe and is voiced by George Lopez ("Swing Vote"). It should be said these human characters are merely perfunctory and therefore a waste for such talents as Perabo and Curtis.

The first place Chloe winds up in her misadventure is in the seedy underworld of dog fighting, where she must face the Doberman Diablo (voiced by Edward James Olmos, Sci-Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica"). Because everyone wants to see a Doberman eat a Chihuahua, and so many people are going to bet on that fight. Someone may have gotten a hold of the script and beaten some astounding odds, huh?

Chloe is saved by a good-natured German Shepherd named Delgado (Andy Garcia, "Oceans Thirteen"). Delgado is reluctant to help the prissy little dog, but his better nature wins him over, and both dogs learn they aren't so different from each other, and blah, blah, blah. There are some other characters thrown into the mix, like the rat and chameleon, voiced by Cheech Marin ("Planet Terror") and Paul Rodriguez ("A Cinderella Story") respectively, who take advantage of the lost pup at first and later help her because their worlds aren't as far apart as they might seem, and blah, blah, blah.

Yeah, this is a basic story at best, but it doesn't take the usual lost dog road movie lines where the animal characters who help the heroine come in, do their thing, and then disappear from the scene. The animals here are surprisingly involved in the screenplay, with running subplots about each of them. Most of the characters are still involved at the story's climax. Unfortunately, the original approach doesn't provide any original material.

The animators at Pixar have proven time and again it's quite possible to create family entertainment that can appeal to a broad audience despite age. The big problem with "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" is that it is content to be simply what it is--a movie where dogs and other animals talk. I didn't laugh once during this movie because director Raja Gosnell ("Scooby-Doo") and his screenwriters seem to think the gimmick of talking animals is enough to be entertaining all on its own. Perhaps for a six-year-old it is; but for my money, watching my Corgi go at one of her toys at home is more fulfilling.

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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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