Judge Erich Asperschlager has floppy ears and a saggy face. Why won't anyone adopt him?
"There are no bears around here, but there are…bear hugs!"
As another lazy summer draws to a close, it's time to look back at one of the season's most treasured traditions: the formulaic family vacation film.
Facts of the Case
Returning to her childhood summer home for the first time since her father's death, Jennifer York (Cynthia Watros, Lost) is hoping this four-week vacation will bring her own family closer together. But between sparring children and a husband too worried about work to relax, it looks like she might not get her wish. Things take an unexpected turn when a feared island "creature" turns out to be a stray dog named Frank who adopts their family, to the delight of the children—the teenaged Anna (Brittany Robertson, Swingtown) and her younger brother Patrick (Ashton Dierks)—and the horror of their uptight father, Colin (Jon Gries, Napoleon Dynamite). With less than a month before the family returns to the city and their no-dogs-allowed apartment, can Frank work his slobbering magic and bring everyone closer together?
What do you think?
What is it they say about movies starring animals? I'm not sure, but it's probably a lot like what they say about movies where families learn valuable life lessons. Frank isn't awful, but it draws so heavily on dramatic family film conventions that it feels more like a checklist than a movie. You've got the daughter who falls for a hunky store assistant, a father too wrapped up in his work to notice what's going on with his kids, bitchy townies, an eccentric animal warden, self-discovery, nail-nibbling suspense, and about five too many twists as the story winds to a predictable close.
Frank's biggest problem is the catchall script, written as though screenwriter Robin Bradford didn't have much confidence in her central idea. There's a decent, if not wholly original, story buried somewhere under a pile of throwaway gags and extraneous clichés. The "mystery" of the island creature is unbelievable (who mistakes a dog for a grizzly bear?), the extended sequences featuring dad's plumbing ineptitude get old, and the minor subplot about the nosy landlady who mistakes Frank for Colin's mistress is unnecessary at best. The best things about this movie are the simplest: Colin's struggle to become a published writer, Jennifer's dealing with her father's passing, the interaction between Frank and the lonely Patrick. If Bradford and director Douglas Cheney had focused on those, they might not have felt the need for noxious fart gags and the (spoiler!) "will Frank survive?" denouement.
The other big problem with Frank is Frank. Sure, he's cute, but he barely does anything. Usually, movie dogs do tricks or solve crimes. Frank just sits around listening to people talk about their problems. Besides the occasional stealing of a shoe or plumbing tool, he might as well be furniture.
The Frank experience continues past the 90-minute mark with a handful of extras that include "On Location: Littlebrook Farm," a look at the house where most of the movie was filmed, about six minutes of deleted scenes, and the music video for the Summer in Siberia song "Starving for Salmon."
Frank is presented in a widescreen picture that looks a bit washed out at times. The audio is in both stereo and 5.1 surround, but there's not much of a difference. Either way, the soundtrack has way too many songs that don't seem to fit with each other—unless you can think of a good way to combine the latest nameless indie/emo/punk song with Huey Lewis's "Hip to be Square"?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Frank has its share of story problems, but two things take away some of the sting: the location, and the actors.
The movie takes place on an island an indeterminate distance from the city where the Yorks apparently live. As you'll see if you watch the "On Location" featurette, the house the filmmakers chose to represent the York's summer cottage is not only filled with striking detail, but sits on the shore of a beautiful pond. As they drive there, we see scenic shots of pine trees moving away towards inlets, hills, and rocks. It's the kind of place I'd love to visit as long as I knew they weren't still filming this movie there.
Speaking of scenery, Frank features some recognizable faces including Cynthia Watros (Hurley's former squeeze on Lost), Jon Gries (Napoleon and Kip's Uncle Rico), and original SNL castmember Garrett Morris. They've all been in better projects, but with a movie like this, every bit of talent helps.
Frank is a serviceable story that tries to incorporate more plot points than it can handle. The movie is strongest when it focuses on its gooey "family finds dog, dog changes family" center, and weakest when it tries just about anything else. It might be worth a rental if every classic family film is checked out of your local video store, but even then you'd probably be better off playing a board game instead. Yahtzee, anyone?
Does this dog pound euthanize?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Look Pictures
• "On Location: Littlebrook Farm"
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