Firehouse Dog

Things haven’t been good recently for live action animal movies. Last year saw Flicka and Hoot both tank and Evan Almighty hasn’t exactly pulled in either critical acclaim or box office riches in line with its huge budget. The nadir, however, might be Firehouse Dog, which disappeared quickly from theaters in April. It’s clearly a bad sign when you are about an hour into a movie and you plead with your wife to go on the Internet and find out exactly how long said movie lasts. It’s not much better when she calls out “111 minutes” and you realize that equals another 51 minutes of slow torture. Whoever decided that Firehouse Dog, a standard Disney Channel quality family/animal film, needed to push a two hour running time should never be allowed input into a movie again.

In some parallel world where an individual animal can be a huge star and make movies like Jurassic Bark, Rexxx is a pampered actor. When a filming stunt goes wrong, Rexxx is dropped from a plane into a truck of tomatoes. The fact that he is uninjured should be your first clue to just click the old brain circuits off. Rexxx ends up in the care of Shane (Josh Hutcherson from Bridge to Terabithia), a boy who is a Disney-delinquent; in that he doesn’t smoke dope, curse, want to have sex, or steal, he just has a poor attitude. Shane’s dad Connor (Bruce Greenwood) is the captain of the “Dogpatch” fire station (it’s a movie about a dog and the fire station is called “Dogpatch,” get it?), which is in danger of being closed because they have fallen apart after the death of their previous captain, who was also Connor’s brother and Shane’s uncle. Rexxx (now called Dewey) finds his acting stunt skills translate well into fire rescue and his attitude helps to turn the station (and Shane’s attitude) around (in a poorly explained and really incomprehensible way.)

The plot goes on and on and also involves a series of mysterious arsons; a budding romance between Shane and JJ (Hannah Lochner); a rivalry between the “Dogpatch” and “Greenpoint” fire stations; the relationship between Connor and the “Greenpoint” captain Jessie (Claudette Mink) who also happens to be JJ’s mother; a fire dog competition where Rexxx falls for the “Greenpoint” Dalmatian who also happens to be JJ’s dog; the search for Rexxx by his former owner, Trey (Dash Mihok); the relationship between Trey and Liz (Bree Turner) during their search. Never mind the other four firefighters who work at “Dogpatch” (naturally they are all the colors and genders of the rainbow) and have their own shenanigans. It just makes you tired to watch the whole thing.

Director Todd Holland, who has done some very good television work (“Malcom in the Middle,” “Wonderfalls,” “The Larry Sanders Show”) can’t seem to decide what movie he wants to make and there is an episodic television feel to the many, many, many stories and sub-stories. The whole thing might have worked better as a Nickelodeon series. There isn’t even good use of the bigger budget and better production values a movie provides. Holland isn’t much of an action director and while you shouldn’t expect Backdraft, the stunts should be a little better than what you see in “Halloweentown High.” The script, written by the guys who gave you Face/Off and Tomb Raider, seems to be trying to push the envelope a little on the animal-action movie, but fail miserably.

It’s ironic that this movie is a reunion for Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp, who were excellent as John and Robert Kennedy in the missile crisis movie Thirteen Days. When they get together in the future, they will probably want to talk about that movie more than this disaster. If this is playing for free on television in a few years and your kids are handy, it will probably keep them entertained for its overlong running time. Just keep a book nearby for yourself. For one of the few times I’m happy a DVD has broken Ed’s Most Important DVD Rule: have a commentary. If director Todd Holland or anyone involved had recorded a commentary, I would have had to watch the movie again and I’m not sure I could have handled that. Actually, if the movie wasn’t so bad, it might have been a decent DVD package. Although the commentary is missing, there is a pretty decent selection of extras for an unpopular theatrical release.

Nothing fully qualifies as a “making-of” featurette but there are five short “Dog Treats” which discuss the behind-the-scenes aspect of making the movie. They are about two minutes each, as though kids wouldn’t want to sit through anything much longer (making the 111 minute running time for the film even odder.) There is also a “Storyboard to Screen” segment of the first big fire in the movie, where Shane meets Rexxx. The top half of the screen shows the original storyboard and the bottom shows the finished film. It’s not that interesting but you can have Holland’s commentary as an option which makes it a little more interesting.

There are three deleted scenes, two are actual filmed scenes and are very short but one is longer animated storyboard of the original opening sequence. This is worth watching only for the commentary by Holland and the three writers. Apparently the original opening was going to be too expensive to shoot so the writers met and banged out a new (cheaper) opening. One writer says they wrote the new opening in “literally one hour.” It explains A LOT about the quality of that scene in the movie and the movie as a whole.

Rexxx the pretend dog (he’s actually played by four dogs) is the subject of two extras. This makes some sense since kids are the only audience for this movie and they are interested mostly in the dog and not things like storyboards and deleted scenes. There is a spoof “True Hollywoof (get it?) Story” about Rexxx’s life in movies. It’s as lame as it sounds. There is also a Fox Movie Channel segment on the casting of the dog part in the movie. I think the fact that this is a Fox movie was involved in their desire to cover the casting of the movie, but that’s just me.

The last few extras show the posters from the film and the trailers. There is also a PSA from Josh Hutcherson (looking at least 3 years older than his character - when was this thing filmed?) to spay and neuter your pets. Finally, through some contest, people sent in pictures of their dogs. The first 200 picked were used in the final credits of the movie and another 200 were used in a montage on the DVD. Unless you are one of the people who sent in a picture, it’s hardly worth watching.

The transfer and overall production values are good. It’s just not at the service of a very good movie. It’s hard to see who would get much out of obtaining this DVD unless your very young children LOVE dogs and dog movies. Any adult without children has no business anywhere near this and even for those who do have kids, rent Free Willy or something.