It’s hard to know exactly what to make out of a film like “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” I know what it means to me of course, which isn’t much, but I also know I’m not the intended audience. This is a movie for kids, who will laugh at not anything, but an awful lot while paradoxically being very picky about what they find entertaining. Which is how the genre ends up with everything from idiosyncratic classics like “Willy Wonka” to lowest common denominator marathons like “Daddy Day Camp” that rely on the tried and true formulas of pain, humiliation, and bodily fluids.
“Beverly Hills Chihuahua” is far too tame to go that far. It has a very clearly-defined comfort zone, trying to be silly but not offensive, that it will not step one paw out of. In theory I suppose that’s good. On the other hand, at least movies like “Day Camp” spark some sort of emotional reaction, even if that emotion is contempt. “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” is too bland for me to bother making the effort.
Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) is the pampered apple of cosmetics tycoon Jaime Lee Curtis’ eye, but when a trip to Mexico goes wrong, Chloe finds herself lost with no way to get home. Her only hope is former police dog Delgado (voiced by Andy Garcia), drawn into her journey despite himself. Yes, it’s essentially a bad romance novel. But with dogs.
What will kids make out of it? Who knows. Director Raja Gosnell (“Scooby-Doo”), or at least the executives at Disney, seem to think that dogs acting like people is inherently funny and nothing else need be done. The jokes, such as they are, are about ten years out of date (a dog suggesting her audience ‘talk to the paw’ is the height of the film’s sophistication), which means it’s the perfect time to recycle them, or the writers are incredible hacks. Honestly, if I were asked to write a film about talking dogs I probably wouldn’t be able to drum up much enthusiasm about it either, but that doesn’t make the results any more interesting to watch.
It doesn’t help that the actors aren’t any more into it than I am. The voice actors mostly sound bored or, in the comedians’ cases, as if they’re doing a broad version of their routines. Barrymore probably comes off the best, since she gets to more or less be herself. The human side, Curtis’ niece (Piper Perabo) and groundskeeper (Manolo Cardona) searching for Chloe, is about the same. Adults in kid’s films always seem to act like they’re on an episode of “Hannah Montana.”
A kid’s film doesn’t have to be an all time classic to be watchable once anyway for the whole audience. “Cats & Dogs” managed to pull it off some years ago, mainly because one of the voice actors took the initiative to create a character that was unrepentative in his loathing of everyone around him, and it worked. No one in “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” seems to care that much. And if they don’t care, why should I?