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Beverly Hills Chihuahua
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Sheltered Life"
1 stars

The good news is that “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” is not the 90-minute-long ethnic joke that the incessant trailers have been promising for the last few months. The bad news is that it isn’t much of anything else either. Ostensibly the latest in a long line of films produced by Walt Disney Studios over the years involving adorable dogs getting into wacky hijinks while pet lovers in the audience collectively go “Awwww” every few moments, it is instead as painfully earnest and painfully dull a kiddie film as has been seen in a while and not even the occasional shots of pure weirdness on display will be enough to perk the interest of any parents or older siblings forced to tag along for the ride with their young charges, unless the idea of sitting through what feels like an extremely extended version of one of those old Taco Bell commercials really floats their collective boats.

Drew Barrymore provides the voice of Chloe, a spoiled and vaguely snobbish Chihuahua who lives in splendor in Beverly Hills as the beloved pet/fashion accessory of wealthy cosmetics queen Viv (Jamie Lee Curtis) and who spends her days trying on fabulous clothes, going in for endless spa treatments and ignoring the romantic advances of Papi (George Lopez), the poor-but-humble dog belonging to Viv’s poor-but-humble landscaper Sam (Manolo Cardona). Viv is about to leave for an overseas business trip and when her usual dog sitter can’t make it, she calls in spoiled, irresponsible and vaguely racist niece Rachel (Piper Perabo) to do the job herself. Naturally, Rachel is not especially up to the task and things get worse when she packs up Chloe and takes her on an impromptu trip into Mexico with a couple of her girlfriends and, horror of horrors, feeds her canned dog food. Through a series of circumstances that I flat-out refuse to get into at this point, Chloe escapes from the hotel in order to find Rachel but before she can, she is snatched up by some guys running a dogfighting ring and before she knows it, she finds herself in the ring against a monstrous bruiser known as Diablo (Edward James Olmos).

Because this is “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” that we are watching and not “Amores Perros” (if only it were), the remainder of the film does not consist of Chloe being torn to shreds by Diablo (if it were, I suspect that I might have heard something from the fabulous babe from PETA by this point). Instead, she is rescued from her crunchy fate by Delgado (Andy Garcia), a world-weary ex-police dog with a tragic secret who agrees, against his better judgment, to help Chloe make her way through the streets of Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta and Tijuana in order to help her evade the pursuit of the dognappers (who have finally realized that the incredibly expensive diamond collar she is wearing just might indicate that she is valuable to someone) and Diablo while Rachel, Sam and Papi follow the trail as well. Along the way, Chloe and Delgado have all sorts of misadventures involving a pack rat (Cheech Marin) and an iguana (Paul Rodriguez) who have formed a con man duo that has liberated Chloe from her collar and the only means of identifying her, a group of militant mountain Chihuahuas whose leader (Placido Domingo. . .yes, Placido Domingo) who preaches to Chloe about ethnic pride and encourages her to discover her inner bark and a boastful sidekick dog who, if the role were designed for a real human being, would almost certainly be played by Luis Guzman. (By an amazing coincidence, the role is voiced by none other than Luis Guzman).

Now that I think about, I’m actually liking the idea of having the entire movie performed by actors in dog suit’s a la Robert Downey Sr.’s underground cult classic “Pound.” At the very least, the sheer srangeness of such an enterprise might have sparked something that would have made it at least momentarily interesting. At the very least, it would have been much more appealing than the film’s gambit of taking real dogs and using CGI technology to make it look as if they are actually talking, a conceit that can come off beautifully when handled properly (as it was in the glorious “Babe” films and the recent remake of “Charlotte’s Web”) and plays as good old-fashioned nightmare fuel when it isn’t (as it was in pretty much every other film in recent years to try it). Beyond that, the story is trite and vaguely insulting even for a story aimed solely at little kids, the attempts to weave in material that will appeal to older viewers (such as Delgado’s grim backstory and a remark that suggests that the pack rat may not be unfamiliar with the flesh trade) are just plain strange without being funny and the incessant soundtrack is so crammed with overly familiar hits (such as “Hot, Hot, Hot,” “Bad to the Bone” and “Hero”) that it feels like a compilation made up entire of songs heard in other Disney films.

Beyond that, there are exactly two things that I found that kind of worked in the film. The first is Drew Barrymore’s voice work as Chloe because if there is another actress out there with a voice perfectly suited to play a spoiled gringa Chihuahua (and don’t get mad at me for saying “gringa” since the film itself does it incessantly) who learns to become a better, sweeter and more humble pooch, I don’t know who it could possibly be. The other is a bit when the pack rat tries to convince the iguana to help him raid a pińata and the iguana sagely warns “Wherever there’s a pińata, there’s a stick.” (Okay, it isn’t exactly “No matter where you go, there you are,” but I laughed.

Since there is not a single person out there who has actually read this far into the review--those who are going to see it this weekend aren’t going to bother with any pesky reviews, especially a long and negative one like this, and those who don’t want to see it certainly aren’t going to be reading reviews of it unless they are doing so in order to drink in my electrifying prose--I figure that I can use this last paragraph to go off on the one aspect of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” that held any real interest for me and which subsequently provided its biggest disappointment. That would, of course, be the presence of Piper Perabo in the lead two-legged role. As longtime readers will no doubt recall, she has been one of my favorite actresses since she burst on the screen in the delightfully trashy T&A epic “Coyote Ugly” with her cheerful attitude, winning smile and legitimate acting chops (the latter of which were admittedly put to better use a few years later in the criminally underseen boarding school melodrama “Lost and Delirious”). And yet, she is nowhere near the star that she deserves to be and this is in large part due to the atrocious taste in scripts shared by her and her handlers--for every interesting project that she does get included in such as “The Prestige” or “First Snow,” there are two or three pieces of junk like “Slap Her, She’s French,” “The Cave” and the “Cheaper By the Dozen” movies. Now she is the nominal human star of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” the kind of film that an actress like her should only do at either the very beginning or very end of her career. From a purely pragmatic position, her appearance makes sense--the film is most likely going to make a ton of money and raise her profile--but from an artistic standpoint, it is an embarrassment in every way. (Let me just say that if I want to hear Piper Perabo yip, yap and bark as though she were a dog, as she does at one point here, I can guarantee you that I would like to see it in a different context.) This is a career that needs help, or at least a better sense of quality control, and needs it now. After all, a charming and beautiful ingénue is a terrible thing to waste, especially on a film that doesn’t even make it five minutes before deploying poop jokes and admonishments to “talk to the paw.”

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17282&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/03/08 00:21:14
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User Comments

12/25/09 Dr.Lao The most annoying breed of dog stars in Hollywood plot #37 2 stars
4/23/09 X How exactly could a chihuahua be a warrior? 1 stars
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  03-Oct-2008 (PG)
  DVD: 03-Mar-2009


  DVD: 03-Mar-2009

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