As a big fan of the Air Bud franchise, Judge Brendan Babish isn't much impressed by a dog that can slide down a firehouse pole.
Shane: You are one strange dog.
One of the more interesting facets of Firehouse Dog is that it was shot in 2005 but had its release delayed until 2007. Of course, it's nothing new for studios to postpone the release of a troubled film, but it is somewhat odd that a movie about a firefighting dog—which one would assume had modest critical ambitions to begin with—was shelved. So, how bad is this Air Bud knock-off? Not surprisingly, pretty bad. But what is mildly surprising is that it fails not only as a wacky canine comedy, but also as a hokey father-son melodrama.
The hero of Firehouse Dog is a celebrity pouch named Rexxx. Despite being unable to talk, Rexxx is a successful actor (though his name might suggest it, he doesn't seem to be have any experience in pornography), and is somehow able to demand above-the-title billing in his films—hits such as Jurassic Bark. While shooting a skydiving scene for his new movie Rexxx is blown off course and runs into Shane Fahey (Josh Hutcherson, RV), a young boy playing hooky from school. The boy's father, Connor (Bruce Greenwood, Thirteen Days) is a firefighter, and Rexxx (newly christianed Dewey) is taken in by his firehouse.
For movie that would likely only appeal to young children, Firehouse Dog's storyline moves into surprisingly dark territory. Shortly before finding Rexxx, Shane's uncle, Connor's brother, was killed in a fire, which was suspected to be arson. Shane and Rexxx work together to discover to who set the blaze, and why.
The film was directed by Todd Holland, who has largely worked in television; he has directed episodes of several quality shows, including Malcolm in the Middle, Wonderfalls, and The Larry Sanders Show. As clear from his pedigree, Holland is a talented director; perhaps this partly explains the disjointed tone of Firehouse Dog. Since the film has so little chance to resonate as a drama, a less talented director might have been perfectly content making an amiable, stupid dog movie.
This isn't to say that Firehouse Dog is highbrow. It features a dog that can slide down fire poles, clean bedrooms, and is seemingly a major player in Hollywood. It's got a series of lame music cues—perhaps worst of which is George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone" played over a shot of Rexxx wearing sunglasses (has a good film ever featured "Bad to the Bone" on its soundtrack?). The movie also features a ridiculous plot that could probably only be appreciated by those who still believe in Santa Claus.
And yet, in the midst of all this, we have an anachronistic heart-wrenching scene in which Shane tearfully explains the unbearable guilt he feels over being grateful that it was his uncle, and not his father, who perished in the fire. This is a scene that might have worked in a film like Ordinary People; in Firehouse Dog it seems odd and causes a fair amount of discomfort. While the film's melodrama is aptly handed by the great underrated actor Bruce Greenwood, his strong performance has the unintended effect of further undermining what should be a screwball comedy. Additionally, this film seems a rather shabby vehicle in which to reunite the Kennedy brothers from the excellent film, Thirteen Days (Greenwood played President John Kennedy and Stephen Culp, who plays a local bureaucrat here, played his attorney general and younger brother, Robert).
Ultimately, Firehouse Dog ends up being a little too heavy for its younger viewers, and features too much canine antics for anyone who might otherwise be affected by the melodrama (though if you were looking for affecting drama in Firehouse Dog you probably deserve to be disappointed).
It is somewhat odd that Fox would attach so many extras to a movie they obviously have so little regard for. However, a closer inspection reveals that this hodgepodge of extras is largely neglected leftovers from a film that probably won't invite much closer inspection anyway.
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