Love and loathing at the dog anti-beauty pageants
The film focuses on four featured dogs, veteran show dog Rascal (owned by uber-competitive Dane), rookie ugly dog Icky (and his mohawked-owner Jon), reigning champ Pabst (with his laid-back pal Miles) and underdog Winston (and his mistress Ashley) as they prepare to do battle at the Petaluma World's Ugliest Dog competition. While we get to know each pair a bit, the movie also offers a recent history of the scene (including the truly horrific Sam and his sweet owner) and shares some thoughts from inside the show circuit and from academia's experts on why people are drawn to ugly dogs and the concept of ugliness in general. There are some truly fascinating elements to examine here, including the controversial nature of recent winners, which have included genuinely sick dogs, whose illnesses contributed to their "ugliness." The movie does a nice job of not just chronicling the ugly dog phenomenon, but analyzing it a bit as well.
It's not just the dogs that are in the spotlight, but their owners as well, as the competition between them is naturally much more vicious, and no one is more aggressive than Dane, the superstar of the circuit, who's been showing dogs since he was 11. From his obsession with celebrities (which borders on cartoonish) to his ever-present camera crew to his obnoxiously competitive attitude, he's a ready-made villain, made all the more distasteful by the pleasant nature of the other featured owners, especially the understated Miles, who just doesn't belong in the pageant world (nor does his dog, who won the previous year despite suffering from just one relatively minor disfigurement.) The problem is, when exploring worlds like this, you run the risk of making fun of people who can't help themselves--whose only crime is having an unusual hobby and perhaps being a bit off socially.
If anything could be held against the film, it would be the structure, as the movie ends about 40 minutes in, and then gets stretched out by another 20 minutes by profiling another dog and it's owner. Thinking about it, there's no reason why this character couldn't have been integrated into the rest of the film, to build a more natural progression to the plot and create a more effective climax. Though the tacked-on tale is touching, pretty much all the drama is basically over at that point, so you're just hanging around waiting for it to end.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 presentation is good for what it is, delivering a straight down the middle track that is clear and free of any distortion, but you're not going to find anything that either tests your system or impresses in any way.
A bonus follow-up, "Winston Gets a Wheelchair" (3:37), shows one of the featured dogs getting some needed help from a good Samaritan, while there are seven deleted scenes showing more of the characters, including the first meeting between Icky and Rascal, which will only make you dislike Dane more, and one expert's initial, awesome reaction to Sam. There's also a commercial for Three Twins ice cream, which features a few of the featured dogs, and a gallery of Dane's photos of celebrities with Rascal.
The final extra is one of Beck and Lewis' earlier short films, Drag King. Running about eight minutes, it's a breezy look at the unique little world of the Fiberglass 500, a demolition derby where the goal isn't to hit the other cars, but to destroy the boats the cars drag behind them. There's not a lot of insight into the people involved, but it's an interesting curiosity.
The Bottom Line