Directed by: Thor Freudenthal
Starring: Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Don Cheadle, Johnny Simmons, Kyla Pratt, Troy Gentile
OK, I’ll admit it: I was really hoping there’d been some misunderstanding about the title and this would turn out to be Eli Roth’s Hostel for Dogs. Maybe someday—after all, he’s been ominously quiet ever since his online rant about horror fans not supporting Hostel Part II. Regardless, what we do get is, well, about what you’d expect from a movie called Hotel for Dogs, which is to say there’s a hotel and there are dogs. Oh yeah, and the requisite children—not to mention Don Cheadle for some inexplicable reason. In short, it’s not a good movie. (Did you seriously think it would be?) In fact, it’s indefensible on any number of levels, with a plot that holds up to scrutiny about as well as a slice of Swiss cheese would serve as a windbreak.
However, if I were 10 years old—or if I had a 10-year-old—I’d be more than happy with the movie. (Though please note that the film has mean dogcatchers; the human leads are, tragically, orphans; and there is the occasional moment of PG peril and an offscreen dog euthanasia.) Really, I cannot imagine how any kid wouldn’t be entranced by seeing movie-style resourceful siblings with a cool rundown hotel all to themselves and an abundance of dogs that do all those clever things dogs do in the movies. Blessedly, the dogs don’t talk, and they largely appear to be of the trained-pooch variety, which is to say their cleverness isn’t all CGI jiggery-pokery.
The three-star rating for Hotel for Dogs applies only to kids, parents and the more rabid dog-loving populace. Anyone else should take note that the situations are ludicrous (an abandoned hotel where all the utilities are functional and all the furnishings still there?); the characters are cardboard; the dialogue is often barely functional; and the acting is somewhere between wooden and the lesser realms of TV. OK, I’ll exempt Cheadle from that last observation. He may be there for the paycheck (what other reason could there be?), but he doesn’t just walk through his role as an idealistic social worker who does his level best to protect our orphaned siblings, Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin, the voice of the title character on TV’s Go, Diego! Go!), from being split up.
The premise finds Andi and Bruce—16 and 11 years old respectively—stuck with loser foster parents Lois (Lisa Kudrow) and Carl Scudder (Kevin Dillon), a hateful pair of abominably bad wannabe rock musicians, who are in the foster-care business strictly for the money. The kids can’t even keep their dog, Friday, which leads to the titular hotel. That’s really about all there is to it—except for adding more dogs, some human friends, Bruce’s various improbable Rube Goldberg inventions for dog sitting and, of course, the ever-present potential peril of dogcatchers and other authority figures. (The film gets confused on certain aspects of this, since keeping the dogs quiet is a key point, even though Bruce builds a device that’s designed to work them into a barking frenzy.)
The movie makes a stab at redefining what a family is (though not exactly a cutting-edge idea at this point) and is obviously well-intentioned, but the hook is ultimately lots and lots of cute and clever dogs, and the biggest and best playground a kid could have in the abandoned hotel. Everything else is about as relevant as putting parsley on fish, though possibly somewhat less nutritious. Rated PG for brief mild thematic elements, language and some crude humor.