“Firehouse Dog” is a mess, but it’s a good-natured mess. It’s about a boy and his dog, and also about firefighters, and so I don’t see how it’s possible not to have warm feelings toward it. Kids? Dogs? Heroes? This movie was custom-made to make my mom cry.
It’s part feel-good family romp, part Hollywood satire, part kids-save-the-day mystery. Like I said, it’s a mess. It has too many dog farts, and by “too many,” I mean “more than zero.” It also has the dog taking a dump in the stew — BUT AT LEAST NO ONE SUBSEQUENTLY EATS THE STEW. That’s a small victory, but nowadays, with family films as poop-centric as they are, you take all the victories you can get.
So yeah, big jumbled mess of a film with way too many things going on, and it’s far too long for a kid flick. And yet I’m sort of casually recommending it, because a) it’s not boring, b) it’s sometimes kind of funny, and c) it’s heartwarming. Too many family films are idiotic and pointless and confuse chaos with comedy. “Firehouse Dog” is calm and assured. It doesn’t dance around like a monkey and honk its big clown nose to try to convince you to like it. It just does its thing, smoothly and somewhat intelligently, and lets you decide.
The boy is 12-year-old Shane (Josh Hutcherson, still in theaters in “Bridge to Terabithia”), the only son of single-dad Connor (Bruce Greenwood), captain at a local firehouse. Shane skips school a lot and doesn’t apply himself to his homework; he’s still reeling over the loss of Uncle Marc, Connor’s brother, who died while fighting a fire a year ago.
The dog is named Rexxx, and he was a pampered, superstar Hollywood dog before accidentally winding up in this town after an airplane stunt went awry. He’s wearing a prop nametag that says Dewey, so that’s what Shane calls him. Rexxx was apparently huge in the film industry, having starred in such capers as (bear with me here) “Jurassic Bark” and “The Fast and the Furriest.” He has his own trailer and wears a toupee. He recently had his doggie heart broken by a Dalmatian with hair extensions.
In the tradition of movies about big-city types who get stuck in middle America and wind up loving it, Rexxx/Dewey soon thrives on being a firehouse dog, and proves to be an able helper. Connor’s firehouse, Engine 55, is a squad of happy-go-lucky losers, but Dewey’s cheerful attitude and ship-shape discipline get them motivated to try harder. Shane even starts doing his homework again. The presence of the dog makes everything better, in other words, which doesn’t exactly make sense, logically, but whatever.
Meanwhile, there has been a string of arsons, and you can bet young Shane and Dewey will solve that mystery! (“… If it weren’t for you meddling kids and your pesky dog!”) Also meanwhile, we’re in for heartbreak when Dewey’s real owner shows up. (If Rexxx was such a big movie star, how come no one in town recognizes him when he suddenly appears, or sees the TV news stories about his disappearance?) And even more meanwhile, Shane and Connor need to fix their fractured relationship, and Shane needs to develop a crush on the daughter of a rival firefighter, and they need to prevent the underfunded Engine 55 from being closed down by the city, and whew! I seriously was not kidding when I said this movie is a mess.
The director is Todd Holland, best known for working extensively on “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Malcolm in the Middle” and the much-lamented, canceled-too-soon “Wonderfalls.” Before all that, alas, he directed the film “Krippendorf’s Tribe,” which is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. That early transgression notwithstanding, he seems to have a knack for amusing, ever-so-sly humor. And while “Firehouse Dog” (with a screenplay by Claire-Dee Lim, Mike Werb, and Michael Colleary) isn’t exactly sophisticated, it’s more than passable as pleasant, likable family fare.
B- (1 hr., 51 min.; )