Author: Steve Carpenter
Writer’s Potential: 5
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The next morning, Clint overhears a TV news report about a new initiative to train dogs of all breeds to become police dogs, to save money on the expensive German shepherds. Clint thinks they should all escape and enlist in the program, but Donut thinks things are great in the kennel. Hector lets them in on a secret: if nobody comes to claim or adopt them after 30 days, they’re taken through the mysterious “red door.” Nobody knows what’s beyond the red door, but the dogs who go through it don’t come back. Terrified, Donut agrees to Clint’s plan. Dobson and Clark torment the dogs instead of feeding them properly. When Samantha rebels, Dobson decides it’s time for her to go through the red door. Clint has come up with a plan for escape, but it’s undermined by Hector, who’s tiny enough to walk through the gaps in the bars. He leaps up and pushes a button to unlock the cell doors. They flee, narrowly escaping their captors, and get on a bus headed for the police station. Samantha thanks Clint for saving her life.
At the K9 training academy, the mayor is irritated to discover no dogs have shown up. Before long, Clint and the gang arrive, to the irritation of Drill Instructor PIKE. He’s a stereotypical, in-your-face D.I., who browbeats his crop of “soldiers,” much to their fear and annoyance. Samantha responds with anger, and Bert pees on Pike, but he insists he’ll whip them into shape over the course of the six-week program. The German shepherd K9s scoff at this weak bunch. That night, the other dogs are angry at Clint for dragging them into this. Hector tries to escape, but can’t squeeze through the chainlink fence. At dawn, Pike wakes the dogs noisily and forces them to run a grueling obstacle course. None of them have the strength or stamina to complete it. Clint comes the closest. Pike has the German shepherd officers run it, just to show the others how pathetic they are.
Dobson and Clark show up to retrieve the dogs, but Pike refuses to give them up. They claim to have an order from the county, but Pike points out it’s merely a parking ticket. Annoyed, Dobson and Clark leave, vowing to think of some way to get their dogs back. That night, the dogs are despondent. Donut is so upset, he can’t even eat. He confesses that, as a puppy, he was the runt of the litter, so he always had to struggle to get fed. When he got a human family, he would eat everything in sight, so no humans would keep him for long. Dobson and Clark break into their kennel. Clint shows the others how to flatten, and the two guards assume the kennel is as empty as the others. They leave, disappointed and empty-handed.
The next day, Pike introduces them to the “sniffing” section of the obstacle course. Clint is too traumatized by his Secret Service experience to participate. Pike is angered and disappointed by Clint’s refusal to participate. He sends Clint to the “Square of Shame.” To Clint’s surprise, Pike commiserates. He recalls being a wild child — until a K9 officer took a chunk out of his arm, the wake-up call he desperately needed. That night, Clint has trouble sleeping. Samantha sees him staring out at the night. She tells Clint he’s lucky to have a second chance — most dogs don’t get that. Samantha confesses she ended up here because her anger caused her to lash out at kids, and she started nipping. Clint tells her to focus the anger and use it in the training. Samantha tells Clint to do the same.
A montage depicts their continued training: marching, slowly improving at the obstacle course, sniffing suitcases, learning commands. Meanwhile, Dobson and Clark invest in a “compliance collar” (one of those steel collars on a long pole that police use when confronted with dangerous dogs) to retrieve their missing dogs. They hear pounding from behind the red door. Dobson opens it, revealing WOLFF (“Dog the Bounty Hunter, but nastier”). Wolff runs a secret dogfighting ring and needs more dogs. Dobson and Clark are out of dogs to sell him, but they promise him five vicious, police-trained dogs — for a higher price than normal. Wolff agrees to it. Pike sends the dogs on a ride-along with human officers. Most of the cops match the temperaments of their animal charges (Donut is paired with a fat, lazy cop, for instance). As a result, they all get excellent commendations for the humans. Pike is shocked by the praise, because they’re all still terrible at the obstacle course. However, as a show of good faith, he gives them a day off before the final test. The dogs all go to the beach to blow off steam. Even Pike shows up.
On the morning of their big test, Clint inflates Samantha’s self-esteem by telling her that her mutt heritage doesn’t mean she’s “nothing” — it means she’s “everything.” Donut struggles to get over the climbing wall. He manages to do it with Clint’s encouragement. Although all the dogs start off well, each makes a series of mistakes that causes them to fail the test: Donut falls off the balance beam, Hector is flung through the air by a teeter-totter, Bert urinates all over a man in a padded suit he’s supposed to attack, and Samantha attacks the same man without being instructed to by Pike. This leaves Clint, who gets all the way to the suitcase-sniffing exercise before refusing to continue — partly out of fear of failure, partly because he’d rather be with his friends than be on the force. Clint sees Dobson and Clark in the Animal Control van, waiting. The dogs have one more night to stay in the training center kennel before they’re released.
In the middle of the night, Pike unlocks the gate, announcing that he’s duty bound to turn them over to Animal Control — unless they escape. As they’re leaving, the dogs notice Dobson and Clark sneaking into the kennel. They find the empty one, but undeterred, they go to the kennel filled with the German shepherd officers, luring them into their van with steaks. Pike sees what Dobson and Clark are doing and orders them to stop — so Dobson knocks Pike unconscious. They drag him into the van. Reluctantly, the dogs agree they must save the others. They have to rely on Clint’s nose to find out where Dobson and Clark are leading them. Clint doesn’t have much faith, but the others prop him up. He leads them to a construction site, where Dobson and Clark wait for Wolff to arrive.
Clint and the others launch Hector across the construction site. He slams into Dobson and Clark, surprising them. Dobson tries to attack with a 2x4, but ends up whacking Clark instead. Clint leads the other dogs to attack Dobson and Clark. They wrap the pair in a big net and toss them into a vat of wet cement. Bert frees the German shepherds from the van. They revel in their victory, but it’s short-lived — Wolff shows up and holds Pike hostage with his gun. He orders all the dogs to come with him, or he’ll kill Pike. Menacing, Clint keeps moving forward, causing Wolff to keep moving back, until he backs up against an electric fence and is fried to death. The dogs and Pike celebrate. Samantha asks how Clint knew Wolff wouldn’t shoot. Clint proudly declares he could smell the fear. At the K9 graduation ceremony, Pike proudly introduces the new team of officers to an excited crowd. Pike leads the dogs on a march through the beach. Over the credits, each of the dogs explains (through Cops-like interviews) how they’ve each managed to overcome obstacles to become successful police officers. Clint and Samantha are married and have a litter of puppies. Pike arrives to lead their litter on a march.
The first act competently establishes the characters and the major sources of conflict (overcoming their own fears while avoiding Animal Control). However, from the moment the dogs arrive at the K9 training center until the moment in the third act when Dobson and Clark kidnap Pike and the German shepherds, not much of note happens to the characters. They train poorly, feel anxiety about the difficulties of the training, and continue to train poorly. There’s not much jeopardy for the dogs, as they’re well-protected from Animal Control when they’re within the training center (and there’s no mention of them being turned back over to Animal Control until the third act, so there’s no suspense there), and the goal to successfully run the obstacle course and become police officers is played with the lowest possible stakes. It may seem strange to talk about high stakes and suspense in a kids’ movie, but giving kids cute, anthropomorphic dogs will only hold their attention for so long before they get bored and move on to something more compelling.
In the third act, something interesting finally happens: after failing their test, the dogs are forced to prove their worth and foil Dobson and Clark’s kidnapping scheme. It all goes by so quickly and easily, however, that it’s an unsatisfying conclusion to a mostly unsatisfying story. Worse than that, the script hits on a few too many uncomfortable adult themes (ostensibly to keep parents interested), such as depictions of dogfighting, choking animals, holding hostages at gunpoint, and dialogue frequently laced with sexual innuendo and, for some reason, politics. It’s creepy and off-putting to find material like this in a kids’ movie, and it causes the script to suffer from a problem not uncommon to kids’ fare: it’s too adult for kids, but too kid-friendly for adults. Some of this “adult” material exists solely to attempt to raise the stakes, but it does a poor job of that, so why does it need to be here?
The characters don’t really rise about the level of stereotype, but they’re about as well-developed as they need to be for a kids’ movie. Each has a well-defined hurdle to overcome, and although their struggles create a lot of unnecessary repetition in the second act, it leaves the audience with the decent (if overused) moral that people shouldn’t let fear prevent them from succeeding. Clint is effective as the protagonist, the other dogs are moderately entertaining in their ineptness, and Dobson and Clark are decent enough as villains, although they come across more as stupid than sinister, which again contributes to the lack of jeopardy.
The only character who doesn’t really work is Wolff: the only thing he contributes to the story are the disturbing elements that don’t quite work (he’s the dogfighting ringleader, and he’s the one threatening to murder people at the end). He also has the unfortunate side effect of making Dobson and Clark seem like idiotic patsies instead of actual villains. Wolff, himself, is not really the villain of the story. Everything he does is just a failed attempt to raise the stakes, but his presence inadvertently lowers them by deflecting the “light-hearted menace” Dobson and Clark should possess.
Despite reservations about the quality of the story, an effective promotional campaign will likely draw a sizable audience in its opening weekend. However, positive word-of-mouth is bound to be low, as are DVD/Blu-ray sales.
Posted by D. B. Bates on April 30, 2010 11:21 AM