It’s been a booming season at the movies for dog-lovers, with “Bolt,” “Marley & Me,” and “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” all scoring big grosses with their warm tales of canine companionship and leg-humping. Even the art house circuit got into the act with the somber “Wendy and Lucy.” But if all of this has left your thirst for Fido-centric films still unquenched, “Hotel for Dogs” can pick up some of the slack, though four canine comedies and an indie drama within four months might be considered excessive.
This one has orphans, though! Adorable orphans! They are 16-year-old Andi (Emma Roberts) and her 11-year-old brother Bruce (Jake T. Austin), unspecified-big-city kids whose parents died in an unspecified manner and who now live with apathetic foster parents, the Scudders, played by Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon. To avoid terrifying the target audience, the movie makes the Scudders more amusing than mean, casting them as wannabe rock stars who also just happen to put padlocks on the cupboards and only feed the kids gruel.
Andi and Bruce have a pet dog that they’ve kept secret from Scudders, shoplifting and pulling small-scale scams to pay for the pooch’s food and upkeep. This can’t go on forever, though, and as fate would have it, the kids stumble across an abandoned hotel that already has two stray dogs living in it. They install their own dog here with his peers, and Bruce uses his ingenuity for gadgetry to devise machines that will automatically feed and entertain the dogs when the kids aren’t around. The “riding in the car with your head hanging out the window” simulator is especially nice.
As more and more neighborhood strays join the secret hotel for dogs, Andi and Bruce are joined by human co-conspirators: Dave (Johnny Simmons), a local pet shop clerk and Andi’s inevitable love interest; Heather (Kyla Pratt), Dave’s co-worker; and Mark (Troy Gentile), a random kid who appears out of nowhere and decides to be everyone’s friend. But eventually the hotel will be discovered and there will be trouble with the grown-ups, and then important lessons will be learned and everyone will live happily ever after.
Based on Lois Duncan’s junior novel (she also wrote the book on which “I Know What You Did Last Summer” was based!) and directed by Thor Freudenthal, “Hotel for Dogs” is strictly for the young folks. It has the questionable logic and stock characters (like villainous, over-eager animal-control officers) that one only finds in kids’ movies — and hey, that’s fine. The point is eventually made that Andi and Bruce are doing for dogs what their social worker (played by Don Cheadle) does for orphaned children, but the audience probably won’t be interested in symbolic parallels like that. (Nor will they stop to wonder why Don Cheadle is in this movie.) The whole affair is breezy and easy-going, and the dozens of dogs are all really, really adorable, even more so than the orphans.
B- (1 hr., 40 min.; )