Film Goes to the Dogs
Summing up the quality of Beverly Hills Chihuahua can be done thusly: a shrug, followed by “It’s not awful.”
It’s not. You could probably tell me the plot just based on the ads, but here it is anyway: Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) is a pampered pup living with ultra-famous, ultra-rich cosmetics maven Viv (Jamie Lee Curtis). When Viv heads to Italy on a business trip, irresponsible niece Rachel (Piper Perabo) comes to dogsit. Then she goes to Mexico with friends, as you do, dog in tow. Chloe gets separated from Rachel, gets dognapped and, in a strangely dark turn of events, is enlisted in a dogfight. With help from German shepherd Delgado (voice of Andy Garcia), she and her newly-freed mutt companions attempt to find their way home—Beverly Hills for Chloe, and other loving families for the rest of the dogs. While Chloe and Delgado make a run for the border, Rachel searches for her with Papi (voiced by George Lopez) and his owner, Viv’s landscaper Sam (Colombian telenovela star Manolo Cardona, who is a real treat to watch. His acting isn’t bad, either.)
Once you get past the freaky dogs-that-can-talk element, the adventure continues in an entirely unadventurous way. The film occasionally touches on more serious subplots: the aforementioned dogfights, plus a recurring theme that Chloe has forgotten her roots and that’s what makes her powerless—not her spoiled upbringing. This gets resolved when she ends up in a City of Chihuahuas (not kidding), where their leader makes an actually rousing speech. “We are not fashion accessories,” he says. “We were not made to wear funny hats and ride around in purses.” The point that dogs aren’t decorations and should be treated like, well, animals, is one that should have been made long ago.
Clever moments are few and far between, though. The one that stands out most is the coyote that brings “tagless dogs” over the border from Mexico to the U.S. is, in fact, a literal coyote. That’s kind of funny.
The film is so family-friendly that it’s tough to find anything objectionable. The canine villain, El Diablo (voice of Edward James Olmos), is a menacing Doberman, all teeth and snarls. Guns are pulled (by the good guys) at one point. Chloe is threatened by El Diablo at various points (though no bites are exchanged) and a mountain lion at another, although the scariest part of that scene is the horrific CGI where it’s pretty clear that the lion is nowhere near the dog. It’s possibly on another planet, in another universe, in a different branch of the space-time continuum. There’s also a moment where Chloe appears to be dead (spoiler alert: she’s not!) The Right Said Fred song “I’m Too Sexy” plays at one point, but that’s all the nookie that appears in the film—Rachel even sends a date off without a good-night kiss.
We can discuss later what it means for the state of the American film and the American filmgoer that Beverly Hills Chihuahua was the number-one box-office draw this weekend. But this short, tightly-edited little piece of fluff is as innocuous as cotton candy: nutritionally unsound, but sweet enough.
At the reviewed showing, the following previews ran: High School Musical III, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Marley and Me (Awwww! Puppy!), The Tale of Desperaux and Bedtime Stories.
Kristen Page-Kirby is the editor of Chesapeake Family Magazine. You can read her blog about first-time motherhood at ChesapeakeFamily.com/newmommy .