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Firehouse Dog DVD Review

Firehouse Dog (2007) movie poster - click to buy Firehouse Dog

Theatrical Release: April 4, 2007 / Running Time: 111 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Todd Holland

Cast: Josh Hutcherson (Shane Fahey), Bruce Greenwood (Connor Fahey), Dash Mihok (Trey Falcon), Steven Culp (Zachary Hayden), Bill Nunn (Joe Musto), Bree Turner (Liz Knowles), Scotch Ellis Loring (Lionel Bradford), Mayte Garcia (Pepe Clemente), Teddy Sears (Terence Kahn); Arwen, Frodo, Rohan, Stryder (Rexxx/Dewey the Dog); Hannah Lockner (Jasmine "J.J." Presley), Claudette Mink (Captain Jessie Presley), Shane Daly (Burr Baldwin), Matt Cooke (Corbin Sellars), Katie Finneran (Felicity Hammer), Brandon Craggs (Oscar), Joseph Zita (Josh)

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By Albert Gutierrez

A lonely boy meets a dog, befriends the dog, and is no longer lonely. This simple premise has been the backbone of most boy-and-dog stories, including such memorable films as Old Yeller, Shiloh, Air Bud, My Dog Skip, and any version of Lassie. Once in a while, a film or TV show will deviate from that formula and offer a unique twist on the boy and dog experience. "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" presents a talking dog who adopts a boy and takes him on educational trips through history. The aptly-titled A Boy and His Dog is a science fiction tale in which a teenager and his telepathic dog struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. While not as witty as "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" and definitely not as dark as A Boy and His Dog, 2007's Firehouse Dog is the latest entry to this small genre and in it, we find a celebrity dog becoming friends with an expectedly lonely boy.

Firehouse Dog begins on a movie lot, as celebrity dog Rexxx (two "x"'s apparently aren't enough) is preparing for a skydiving stunt in his latest film. The stunt goes wrong, and Rexxx falls from the plane without his parachute. His owner Trey (Dash Mihok) is devastated, as Rexxx is presumed dead when all they can find is the dog's wig. In actuality, the signature hairpiece flew off after the dog conveniently landed in a tomato truck.
Rexxx soon finds himself in a small town and inadvertently ends up "capturing" Shane Fahey (Josh Hutcherson, Bridge to Terabithia), son of busy firehouse captain Connor Fahey (Bruce Greenwood). Naturally, Shane is a brooding young adolescent, who skips class and has a tense relationship with his always-on-call father.

Shane begrudgingly agrees to take care of Rexxx a.k.a. "Dewey" after the dog is rescued in a fire by Dad's Engine 55. Nicknamed Dogpatch, the department is in danger of closing down due to its lackluster track record at putting out fires. It's not that they're not putting them out, just that they're last unit to arrive on scene. A small station, Dogpatch consists of Captain Fahey and his ragtag team: Joe (Bill Nunn), Pepe (Mayte Garcia), Lionel (Scotch Ellis Loring), and Terence (Teddy Sears). The four are not much, but they are fiercely loyal to the Captain, and are Shane's closest thing to family. Initially, Shane and the firefighters don't care much for Dewey. But, impressed by his spirit-lifting stunts around the house and at a Firehouse Dog competition, they grow to love the dog and adopt him as their own. When Dewey's stunts prove integral in the rescue of a fellow firefighting captain, the news of his heroic feat results in keeping Dogpatch open.

While dutifully posting his "Found: Ugly Stinking Mutt" signs, Shane Fahey (Josh Hutcherson) notices said dog has run off. Movie star turned hero, Dewey (a.k.a. Rexxx) is the titular canine of "Firehouse Dog." He's a little dusty in this scene.

Despite the reprieve, a series of fires continues to trouble the town and Dogpatch. Suspecting it to be arson, but with no conclusive evidence, Shane begins researching the various fires for any ties they may have (such as the saw mill fire that recently killed his uncle Mark). He learns that the arsons are all related, and that the final target is Dogpatch itself! Not helping matters is the arrival of Dewey's goofy Hollywood owner. Will Dewey resume his life as Rexxx the cinematic canine, or remain the mascot and savior for Dogpatch?

You know those commercials that go, "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV"? It pretty much is the same thing here. "I'm not a hero, but I play one on TV" is exactly how Rexxx starts out, but he puts that training to use and "evolves" into a real hero. It's just a pity that this evolution is played out so ridiculously. When a mutt begins having flashbacks about his Dalmatian girlfriend dumping him, one reconsiders how seriously to take the movie. When the dog's former owner stages a big Hollywood funeral for Rexxx, it's time to stop taking the movie seriously altogether.

Five minutes in, I could tell that Firehouse Dog was going to be tedious. There's only so much cornball humor one can take, and seeing a dog fall out of a plane, into a truckful of tomatoes, and living to tell the tale (so to speak) approach that limit in the opening moments. Indeed, the entirety of Firehouse Dog can best be described as "wacky." And not even wacky in the fun "Looney Tunes"-esque sense. It's a "what kind of movie am I watching?" wacky. The story, characters, and general feel are all echoes of better movies, only with an additional "quirky" factor. There are traces of an action film, a screwball comedy, of everything but film noir. It's a muddled movie that demands excessive suspension of disbelief.

Newly demanded in Hollywood Bruce Greenwood plays fire captain Connor Fahey, who gets to show his brave side in this impressively dramatic rescue sequence. No stranger to family fare, Greenwood held a similar paternal role in "Racing Stripes." The four firefighters of Dogpatch (left to right: Mayte Garcia, Bill Nunn, Scotch Ellis Loring, and Teddy Sears) are as close as can be. Here, this quirky squadron cheers on Dewey, their designated canine, in a firehouse dog competition.

The sheer popularity of Rexxx is tough to concede, as he is presented as a worldwide superstar whose "passing" is headline news. I doubt any animal would reach a celebrity status of that stature, but in Firehouse Dog... well, anything is possible.
Normally I would find this kind of story believable, after all, Air Bud does the same thing, but on a "local" level and with sports. But it is too much for anyone to grant that this superdog can lose his wig and not be recognized despite his amazing ability at mastering a skateboard, jumping off walls, cleaning up a room, etc.

Don't get me wrong, Firehouse Dog is not an entirely bad film. Keeping the "wacky" and "quirk" in mind, there are still some redeeming factors in the movie. For one thing, Rexxx does not talk. And that is probably one of the best ideas the writers had. The last thing this movie needed was a talking dog. Also, the family dynamic and the closeness of the Dogpatch firefighters are very touching. Shane and his father's predictably tense relationship is equally balanced with the loving friendship they share with the firefighters Joe, Lionel, Pepe, and Terence. The movie is at its strongest during these few and far between character moments, little scenes where the actors really just need to have a good time or a good cry. The chemistry among them is more believable than the story.

If there's one disappointment in the movie that is unexpected, it is in young lead Josh Hutcherson. He's shown real promise in several of his films so far (among them, Zathura, Little Manhattan, and Bridge to Terabithia). But just as RV was a hindrance to his budding career, so is Firehouse Dog. Coupled with shoddy writing, the lackluster role hurts his performance and most of the time, he seems less experienced in acting than he really is. With the exception of one vital scene (which itself is ruined for a cheap joke), Hutcherson very much phones it in for one of his last pre-pubescent roles.

Buy Firehouse Dog on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: July 31, 2007
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99

VIDEO and AUDIO

Firehouse Dog comes to DVD in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for 16x9 displays. A screener copy was sent for review, resulting in an occasional watermark on the movie and the contents of the disc being encoded on one layer as opposed to the standard two. Normally this should result in compression artifacts and video noise, but given the combined runtime of the film and bonus features (about 147 minutes) being just a shade over the normal capacity of a DVD-5, it actually looked quite satisfactory. Colors are bright and well-defined, and the picture itself is clear and sharp. From what the movie looks here, I expect that the actual DVD release will be a lot better.

Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, with alternate Spanish and French Tracks in a standard Dolby Surround. It's not quite a dynamic action-movie-with-big-explosions soundtrack (though during a few choice scenes, it is), but the cheapy music can be rather excessive. The mix does its job and merits no major complaints.

Supporting actors Teddy Sears and Scotch Ellis Loring provide a Firehouse Tour. Director Todd Holland offers behind the scenes information in "Dog Treats" and many other featurettes. One of the few times the storyboard doesn't match the final film, as a falling water tower is nixed due to time and budget. Gina Gershon gets second billing on the poster for "Jurassic Bark", one of 22 fictional media properties showcased in the clever Canine Star Poster Gallery.

BONUS FEATURES and MENUS

A hodgepodge of brief featurettes and deleted scenes are included on the disc, few of which are actually stimulating and/or informative. First up is the "Dogster Montage" (3:34), where photos of 200 dogs run by the screen. If your dog wasn't one of the 200 random contest winners included in the end credits, chances are he or she is here.
At the very least, that means there are 200 families that will be genuinely interested in this montage.

Five "Dog Treats" featurettes run a little over ten minutes altogether. In "Tricks of the Trade" (2:17), various cast and crew members offer praise at how well-trained the dogs are on set. "Stunt Dogs: Who Protects Them?" (1:29) has Jone Bouman of American Humane discussing how they monitor the safety of the dogs used in the film. The "Firehouse Tour" (2:08) lives up to its title as actors Teddy Sears and Scotch Ellis Loring show off the movie sets used for the firehouse. "Family Values" (2:17) offers the Firehouse Dog definition of its title, where the nuclear Ma, Pa and 2.5 kids are replaced by a group of inept but lovable firefighters and the son of their captain. Finally, "A Friend for Life: Dog Shopping Tips" (2:08) is a thinly-veiled commercial for 1-800-Save-A-Pet, as director Todd Holland and spokesperson Pia Salk give their tips on choosing the right dog for the family.

"Loft Fire: Storyboard to Screen Comparison" (4:08) is a genuinely interesting bonus, with optional commentary by director Todd Holland. He explains how they filmed the scene over six days in over four locations, and how it was easily the most complicated one he's ever had to do.

Intended to be tongue-in-cheek, "Firehouse Dog: A True Hollywoof Story" (2:46) applies the "E! True Hollywood Story" formula to the movie. It isn't particularly enjoyable, nor is it informative. The real cast and crew pretend to rag on Rexxx and his diva-like demands.

As seen in the Fox Movie Channel episode, filmmakers shoot Dewey the Dog in a dramatic ring of fire jump sequence. In the alternate ending, we see the Pillow Wall destroyed as a boy and his dog get ready for bed. The disc's Main Menu, in which movie clips in the O show off the amazing Rexx and the even more amazing Dewey.

A program that aired intermittently in the spring, "Fox Movie Channel Presents: Casting Session" (8:35) features short interview snippets with Holland, Mike Werb, Claire-Dee Lim, and Michael Colleary.



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Like many Fox Movie Channel pieces, it's more promotional than informative, with movie clips aplenty. They talk about how the concept originated and how the filmmakers settled on a type of dog to star in the movie.

Obviously shot months after the film, Josh Hutcherson and his slightly deeper voice enlightens viewers on the importance of spaying and neutering pets in his Humane Society PSA (0:34).

There are three deleted scenes. The "Originally Scripted Opening: Animatic" (2:47) replaces the skydiving plane with a snowboarding stunt gone wrong. "Tandem Act" (0:32) is a brief and justifiably cut scene involving a couple dogs doing a sidewalk act. "Pillow Wall" (1:15) is the original ending to the film, in which a pillow fight ensues. The optional filmmakers commentary explains why each scene was cut, typically for budget or time.

Among the publicity materials are a Canine Star Poster Gallery, with 22 stills of fictional Rexxx movies, magazine covers, and ads. The theatrical trailer (1:53) is also included, and completely deceives the viewer into believing a worthwhile film is coming to that theater near you.

A trailer promoting Everyone's Hero and Night at the Museum starts up the disc, followed by a trailer for some Fox Family DVDs (namely Ice Age: Super Cool Edition, and Family Fun Editions for Anastasia and Ferngully). Also found in the Sneak Peeks listings are trailers for The Sandlot 3: Heading Home, Because of Winn-Dixie, Strawberry Shortcake Sweet Dreams, Care Bears: Oopsy Does It, and a generic "Tons of Fun with Fox Kids!" promo. The anamorphic and animated menus feature clips of the movie within the "O" of Firehouse Dog, set to music from the film.

After some tense moments, father and son get to enjoy proud smile time together. This is the dog who brings them together, whom the movie suggests you may know from movies like "The Fast and the Furriest."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

All Firehouse Dog really needed to do was tell a good ol' story about a boy and his dog. Why saddle the plot with Rexxx being some Wonder Dog of Cinema? Couldn't he just be a Wonder Dog who helps save a firehouse and restore a family? It would at least give the story more credibility, and at best, make it a more tolerable film. While it's not meant to be the definitive boy-and-his-dog film, it does a good job at being an interesting, if highly unrealistic, movie. Both the movie and its DVD features are of very little substance, calling for a rental more than a blind buy.

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Reviewed July 31, 2007.



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