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Pet Shop

Other // PG // December 11, 2018
List Price: $14.78 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted January 14, 2019 | E-mail the Author
After Joe Yeagher (Terry Kiser, of Weekend at Bernie's fame) rats out big-time Brooklyn mobster Tony Marino (John LaMotta) and gets him thrown in jail, Joe's got no choice but to enter the Witness Protection Program, which means moving his family -- his wife, Marilyn (Joanne Baron), his college-bound son Charlie (David Wagner), and his tomboy daughter Dena (Leigh Ann Orsi) -- across the country to Cactus Flats, Arizona, where everyone is miserable trying to fit in with square suburban life. The only person who sees a silver lining in their predicament is Dena, who desperately wants a puppy. Mom objects, but when Dena runs into one of the new pet store owners behind the shop, he gives her a dog for free and Charlie conspires with her to get it into the house on a parental technicality. Dena is thrilled, but she gets more than she bargained for when her new puppy turns out to be a shape-shifting alien controlled by the pet store owners, who are actually interstellar bounty hunters (Jane Morris and Jeff Michalski).

Pet Shop is a very specific type of cheesy family movie, one which no doubt still exists (in the form of dreadful CG-animated knockoffs, lining DVD bargain bins in 7-Elevens across the country), but which really had its heyday in the late '80s through to the mid-'90s. The tone and style of the film suggest invisible air quotes, offering corny wacky hijinks that make the movie seem like a parody of "old-fashioned" entertainment, created to appear in the background of another film or TV show. Yet, it's also clear that the filmmakers are sincere, not winking at the audience. The combination of these two sensations creates a surreal, detached attempt to make children's entertainment by people whose idea of what children will enjoy is so cluelessly wholesome, it unintentionally borders on condescending. Pet Shop feels like it came from another dimension, one where irony does not exist.

Thus, reviewing Pet Shop like a normal movie becomes unexpectedly challenging. When a film has no themes, no subtext, and its minimal story feels it was translated into another language and then back into English, it's hard to latch onto anything with enough dimension to analyze. More than anything, Pet Shop seems to exist to give a special effects team something to work on: the shape-shifting pets, alien villains, and some of the set design all give a VFX team something to work on or with. Admittedly, on their own merits alone, Rappaport's practical work isn't anything to write home about, but within the means and scope afforded to Pet Shop, it's reasonably impressive. The pets transform using old-fashioned opticals, practical versions crawl up walls and get into mischief. The film even has some brief but surprisingly ambitious computer graphic effects.

Beyond setting the stage for effects sequences, the word "sterile" comes to mind when considering the script and direction. There's hardly a single line of dialogue in the movie that isn't expository or a telegraphed punchline. Dialogue manages to do more than state what's on the screen, but stops short of ever aspiring to do more than exactly what the audience might expect or can already infer. Characters do not have personalities so much as costumes combined with a single desire or description. Less than an hour after finishing watching the movie, the idea of quoting a single line or describing 75% of the scenes in the movie feels like an impossible challenge. The only moments from the film that come to mind are the ones that were bad (a joke where Charlie is pursued by another character's "fat" sister), or the ones that were trapped in a family movie version of the uncanny valley (a montage set to a faux "Benny Hill"-like bit of score where the kids try to make food for the alien animals). Even the sheer ridiculousness of wondering how the alien plot and the mobster plot (including two hitmen dispatched to try and take out Joe) are going to come together in the end only intermittently breaks through the film's flavorless fog.

The one thing in the movie that approaches human is the actual performances from the cast. Kiser and Baron are both good at playing cartoon characters, Shashawnee Hall has some good moments as the FBI agent helping them get settled, and the kids all acquit themselves just fine. Plus, while their goofiness wears off quickly, Morris and Michalski achieve the only genuine laugh: Mr. and Mrs. Zimm hissing at each other in some sort of alien language while trying to play it cool. Viewers who saw Pet Shop on videotape years ago might have some nostalgia for this strange pop culture artifact, but the uninitiated are likely going to wonder: aliens created the pet shop in the movie, but did aliens create Pet Shop as well?

The Blu-ray
The illustrated art for Pet Shop downplays Dena's tomboy side, putting her in a dress with lipstick and losing the baseball cap as she examines the extra-terrestrial creatures in the store. The one-disc release comes in a cheap Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Pet Shop has been unavailable on home video since VHS, so any upgrade to the picture is probably pretty good, but Full Moon's 1.78:1 1080p AVC presentation is pretty solid, with a few minor caveats. Detail is decent, although it varies slightly from scene to scene. Colors are strong, with bright green grass and vivid reds popping off the screen. Minor creeping issues include white or bright crush visible from time to time that eliminates detail, a hint of unnatural sharpness that creates mild haloing, and a grain field that occasionally appears noisy or comes and goes for reasons I can't quite discern. There are also a couple of visual effects shots that were probably rendered in standard definition, and still look like standard definition. Sound is a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track (with a Dolby Digital 2.0 track also included), which is adequate. Pet Shop is a cheap movie and the mixing isn't exactly refined, with pretty basic surround sound separation of dialogue, effects, and music. I can't say the modern upgrade (or a hypothetical lossless track) is able to do much for the film's simplistic synth score, or the ambiance of the movie. Only some of the special effects bits liven things up. No subtitles or captions are included.

The Extras
On the main menu, clicking on "Videozone" (20:08) launches what seems like a promotional VHS tape for Moonbeam Home Entertainment, the family arm of Charles Band's Full Moon Pictures. This is kind of a cool relic, even if it is an ad, and it features a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Pet Shop, as well as an intro by Charles, an interview with Albert Band, and some trailers for other Moonbeam releases.

Under "Trailers" on the main menu, spots for Prehysteria, Alien Arsenal, Mysterious Museum, and Goobers have been included. No theatrical trailer for Pet Shop is included.

If you liked Pet Shop, the A/V and vintage extra are both pretty good. All others can probably skip it.

Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.
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