It's hard to go wrong with a movie full of talking dogs. But the makers of Beverly Hills Chihuahua sure try.
Let's get this out of the way first thing: Yeah, talking dogs are cute, and if cute is all you want from a movie, this one may constitute an overdose. But if you want anything else - cleverness, inventiveness, originality, genuine imagination - then I'm afraid you'll need to look elsewhere. It's as if the filmmakers decided the very idea of talking dogs was enough to sustain audiences for 91 minutes, so they didn't bother with anything else.
The main yakking canine is Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore), a pampered Beverly Hills pet who waddles around in little doggie booties and wears a necklace from Harry Winston. You'd think that the current economic turmoil would have taken all the funny out of conspicuous consumption. But maybe one shouldn't blame the filmmakers for being trumped by current events - especially when there's so much else to blame them for.
The laughfest begins when Chloe's high-class, high-maintenance owner (Jamie Lee Curtis, in what must be her worst role ever) decides to go on a vacation where poor Chloe is not welcome. This causes Chloe's ever-conscientious owner to leave the poor pup in the care of her feckless niece, Rachel (Piper Perabo), whose idea of being responsible is making sure her champagne glass remains full.
When Rachel and her airhead friends decide that a trip of their own is in order, they high-tail it off to Mexico, Chloe in tow.
Then Chloe gets picked up by a dog-napper, who wants to use her in a dogfight. (A Chihuahua? In a dogfight?)
Then Chloe escapes, thanks to the friendship she's struck up with a German shepherd named Delgado (Andy Garcia).
Then she works on getting herself back to Beverly Hills - not realizing that Rachel, thanks to a sudden and inexplicable attack of conscience, is already looking for her.
In addition to Chloe and Delgado, plenty of other erudite dogs keep popping up, including a Chihuahua named Papi (George Lopez) who has the hots for Chloe, and a vicious Doberman named Diablo (Edward James Olmos). There's even a talking iguana and a talking rat, suggesting there's a lot more erudition going on in the animal world than most of us realize.
By this time, the cuteness factor is stifling, and the humor ... well, there's the dog that tells someone to "talk to the paw" - a line that might have been funny 10 years ago, but is now just tired. The rest of the film suffers from more of the same. Young kids may find Beverly Hills Chihuahua engaging, and parents may find it harmless (though vacuous).
Director Raja Gosnell (Scooby-Doo), displaying no visual flair or sense of comic timing, does no one any favors. Audiences will keep wondering when the film will display any genuine wit, and it's clear that the human actors (especially Perabo, whose once-promising career seems stuck in mindless family-fare limbo) can't wait to move on to the next project.
Beverly Hills Chihuahua
(Walt Disney Pictures) Starring Piper Perabo, Jamie Lee Curtis. With the voices of Drew Barrymore, Andy Garcia, Edward James Olmos. Directed by Raja Gosnell. Rated PG for some suggestive humor. Time 91 minutes.