By Roger Moore
Kids will watch most anything with a dog in it — witness the success of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” and “Marley & Me,” or the never-ending “Beethoven” franchise. But studios usually have the good sense to send the runts of the dog-movie litter direct to video. Disney’s “Snow Buddies” and the new “Beethoven’s Big Break” come to mind.
“Hotel for Dogs” checks in as a make-work project for every dog trainer in Hollywood. A laughless, gadget-geared and poop-obsessed kid comedy based on a Lois Duncan book, it will sorely test any parent hoping to have a few laughs with the kids and make it home without a side trip to the Humane Society.
Emma Roberts, the fetching star of “Nancy Drew,” and Jake T. Austin play the orphaned siblings Andi and Bruce. They’re fibbers and con artists who endure their cheap and moronic head-banger foster parents (Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon) just so they can be near Friday, the little terrier they’ve been keeping on the sly.
Friday is just like they are, a teenage dog in a world where those who adopt only want puppies (or babies). They’re all strays without a “real home.”
The kids stumble across the derelict Francis Duke Hotel, an ancient ruin where a few other strays have taken up residence. Andi and Bruce, who is a gadget guru, start taking in dogs there.
The cute teens from the pet store pitch in. How will they take care of them all, feed them, deal with their dog droppings and keep all this from Animal Control or their social worker (Don Cheadle, a little embarrassed to be here)?
The movie’s first mistake is in casting the funny Kudrow and Dillon and not giving them anything to do.
The second is in not making the dog-catcher villains funny. And like the worst of the Bond films, this one gets caught up in Bruce’s gadgets — his dog-feeding machinery, his play-fetch catapult, the amplifier he rigs up to broadcast the sound of a dog food can being opened to summon their pets.
There is a lengthy and graphic discourse on how to deal with all the doggy-do. It’s not as cute as the many writers on this and the first-time director seemed to think.
The canines deliver a few decent “aww” moments. But that’s not enough to justify putting this cur on the big screen.