January 22, 2009

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Hotel for Dogs (PG)
A brother and sister take care of something like a bazillion homeless canines in Hotel for Dogs, light, poop-joke-filled kid comedy fare.

You might want to establish with your kid, before the movie starts, that just because 16-year-old Andi (Emma Roberts) and 11-year-old Bruce (Jake T. Austin) can care for a seemingly endless number of dogs doesn’t mean you can in real life. The movie makes a pretty compelling case for rescuing sad-eyed strays and unless you explain the cost of a bag of Purina and how it could lead to, say, decreased pizza and video game purchasing opportunities you might come home one day to find a house full of dogs.

Andi and Bruce start out with a house that is decidedly dog-unfriendly. Their wannabe rocker foster parents (Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Dillon) don’t know the effort the siblings put into the care, feeding and hiding of their dog Friday. To afford his food, for example, they pull scams that involve conning pawn brokers, and to sneak him in and out of the apartment, future inventor Bruce has built an elaborate pulley system. But their social worker Bernie (Don Cheadle, giving the role way more gravitas than it actually has) tells them they’re one such stunt away from being split up (two teenagers being hard to place together even without the mounting record as troublemakers). So when Friday seems to take a shine to an empty hotel where a couple of other dogs are staying, Andi and Bruce decide to let him stay there for a few nights. When pet store employee and fellow 16-year-old Dave (Johnny Simmons) offers some food in exchange for keeping a few more dogs safe from the pound (where dogs have only 72 hours before they find themselves being hauled into an ominous back room), Andi and Bruce begin to outfit the hotel for a bigger crowd and soon — with the help of teens Heather (Kyla Pratt) and Mark (Troy Gentile) — the hotel becomes a well-run dog-protecting operation.

Kind-hearted orphans, mean guardians, a fairy-godfather-ish Don Cheadle, comic-relief-providing dogs and a budding romance between Andi and Dave — Hotel for Dogs has all the modern-day kid fairy tale pieces. And, thanks to many poop-related jokes, the kids in the audience where I saw the movie seemed to like it quite a bit. Doggie doo-doo is elementary-school-comedy gold. Perhaps even more miraculous, this movie didn’t pain me to sit through. It is sweet but not cloying, light but well-constructed enough to amuse the family on a wintery day. B-

Rated PG for brief mild thematic elements, language and some crude humor. Directed by Thor Freudenthal and written by Jeff Lowell, Robert Schooley and Mark McCorkle (from the book by Lois Duncan), Hotel for Dogs is an hour and 40 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Paramount Pictures.