The trailers for Hotel For Dogs make much of the Rube Goldberg devices that are created for the titular hotel and, in truth, they are pretty amazing. The film is not nearly as much fun, but it does have its good points.
Andi [Emma Roberts] and her little brother, Bruce [Jake T. Austin] are foster kids who have adopted a stray dog they’ve named Friday. Their latest foster parents, Lois [Lisa Kudrow] and Carl [Matt Dillon] are obnoxious, and talentless, would be rock stars who have a no pets policy. In trying to find ways to keep Friday with them, yet unseen by Lois and Carl, they have gone to extraordinary lengths – which take them into a closed down hotel, where they find two dogs, that Bruce names Lenny and Georgia. Before long, Andi and Bruce are being helped by a pair of pet store employees named Dave [Johnny Simmons] and Heather [Kyla Pratt] as they turn the place into a hotel for dogs. Along the way, a guy named Mark [Troy Gentile] joins the band, maybe because chunky kids are funny… or something.
The Rube Goldberg devices in all those trailers? They’re to take care of feeding the dogs and give them typical doggie experiences – like playing fetch, barking when there’s someone at the door, or sticking their heads out of a car window. The devices are created by Bruce [who is clearly the reincarnation of Mr. Goldberg], but one of the key plot points is what happens when the devices malfunction and the dogs all flee the building.
The villains are the pet control officers who rake sadistic glee at putting strays in their cages and count the moments until the unclaimed ones will be put down. Other than the sympathetic Bernie [Don Cheadle], the kids’ social worker, all the remaining adults in the film are pretty much twits [though not as bad as Lois and Carl].
Despite its flaws [and they are several], Hotel For Dogs kinda works. The dogs are well trained and steal every scene, though the kids hold their own, for the most part. There’s a certain lowbrow charm to the piece – though perhaps one too many dog poop jokes. The movie is aimed at tweens [the Nickelodeon demographic], but the dogs and Bruce’s wacky machines will keep adults interested while the forced romance between Dave and Andi develops.
Hotel For Dogs is a put your brain on hold and eat your popcorn movie. That’s precisely what it intends to be and, on that level, it works.
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Final Grade: B-