"Talk to the paw." Yes, that's an actual line from "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," Disney's latest attempt to induce drastic birth control methods in America. I feel like an ogre beating up on such a mindless, semi-harmless production aimed directly at distracting toddlers while moms and dads fight about house payments, but it's difficult for me to condone such unfunny funny business. "Chihuahua" is terrible and kids deserve better.
A pampered pooch, Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) lives a life of California luxury with her owner, fragrance tycoon Viv (Jamie Lee Curtis). Entrusting Chloe to her niece Rachael (Piper Perabo), Viv takes off on business, leaving Rachael stuck bringing the dog along on an impromptu trip to Mexico. Wandering away from her hotel, Chloe is kidnapped and forced to join an illegal dog-fighting circuit. Finding comfort in former police dog Delgado (Andy Garcia), Chloe manages to escape, heading off on a cross-country journey to return home. Back in the states, lovesick Papi (George Lopez) springs into action, crossing the border to find his canine princess.
Had "Chihuahua" been something straightforward, a creation that believes in brevity and the value of an imaginative punchline, perhaps the end product might've found an unexpected rhythm and taken audiences by surprise. What's actually here is a lazy movie that bathes in the stink of inanity, using talking dogs as a way into the hearts of audiences. With the Cesar Millaning of America going on right now, it's hard to argue Disney's creative angle, but did they really need to hire Raja Gosnell to direct? The man who made two terrible "Scooby-Doo" pictures and the loathsome "Yours, Mine and Ours" remake? Was there no one else?
Gosnell is a filmmaking zombie and blankly guides "Chihuahua" through an obstacle course of slapstick, cartoon mischief, and dangerous Mexican stereotyping. I write dangerous because, frankly, I'm not sure if "Chihuahua" actually crosses a line of taste, it just feels wrong. Portraying Mexico as a breeding ground for criminal activity, imagining the local police as incompetent fools, and encouraging lines such as "hold your tacos!," the movie doesn't exactly make a strong case for racial harmony. However, worrying about such touchy matters comes a distant second to the real cancer of the film: it's not funny in the least.
What disturbs me most about "Chihuahua" is how seriously Gosnell takes the movie. This is no farce, it's a character study, with backstory for the dogs, the goofiest being Delgado, who lost his scent after blowing a "Miami Vice" style bust and yearns for its return. Boy, Lassie never had such gravitas. Gosnell has a story to tell here and he's sticking to it, no matter how much it bores the audience to tears. Rolling through backstabbing mice, villainous dog nappers, and the blossoming romance between Rachael and Papi's kindly gardener owner, "Chihuahua" almost doesn't have time for jokes. Did I mention Chloe's discovery of an independent Chihuahua tribe located in hidden Mexican ruins? That the leader of said tribe is voiced by Placido Domingo? There's plenty of strange going on, but still no laughs.
Sure, there's cute dogs to look at, and who doesn't love reducing a once proud culture to a horde of dog-fighting heathens, but the absence of ingenuity, of basic comedic curiosity, is disturbing and worse, frightfully boring. In fact, the only hilarious moment in the film is the epilogue, where Disney, after spending 90 minutes showcasing wisecracking, heroic animals that fight for honor and bust criminals, pleads for audiences to be careful with pet adoptions. Suddenly the film has a conscience. If only it had a brain.
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