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Anna Van Hooft
In snowy Connecticut, former police dog Zeus is so happy that his family is going to Malibu, California for Christmas. He lives with George and Belinda Bannister, who have been married 20 years as of Dec. 26 and have two children and one on the way. Zeus can talk, at least to other animals and the audience. Belinda's mother, who wishes Belinda would come be with her for the holidays, can't understand him. Maybe it's just as well. You wouldn't want to use the phone after he answered it.
George's brother Barbara has been married several times. Now she is a widow whose husband has left her a fabulous house. She competes with a cranky neighbor Ned to see who can put up the best Christmas decorations.
Ted and Stewey have a dog grooming service which is not doing too well. And they are in debt to loan shark Tony Rowe, who insists on being paid by Christmas Eve OR ELSE. If they can't come up with the money, he will accept the very valuable star rumored to be on top of Barbara's Christmas tree.
Dumb and Dumber, as Rowe calls them, set up a listening device which appears to work very well, as it can hear what is going on in several different rooms. They stake out the place as the family celebrates.
This film is apparently a sequel, as the guys have met Zeus and the Bannisters before and can't believe they've encountered them again this far away.
The first gift to be opened is a puppy named Mimi, a yellow lab like Zeus. Zeus is reluctant to accept competition, as he has always been George's best friend. But everyone just loves Mimi (who can also talk, at least to other animals and the viewers). And while Zeus covers for Mimi's bad behavior, Mimi also gets credit for something good Zeus actually did. And then Mimi does something so terrible--for which Zeus gets blamed--that Zeus gets banished to a fenced-in area. There, he meets other animals who can communicate with him.
Meanwhile, Belinda believes George has forgotten their anniversary, and she has reason to believe he is cheating. At the very least, he doesn't make an effort to be romantic, and if he doesn't know what to do on his own, she's not going to tell him.
What happens next is kind of a low-budget "Home Alone"--very little excitement compared to that masterpiece of slapstick, but still a few laughs.
This is not exactly a Christmas classic. Two actors do stand out. Elisa Donovan, who looks too pretty to be celebrating 20 years of marriage, really rises above the material she is given. And Joey Diaz as "Dumber" actually comes across as pretty smart, and does a better job as a bumbling villain than partner Dean Cain. Jack Scalia does a good job too as the evil loan shark. I just wish Cain had been a good guy because for the most part, he just doesn't have the ability to play a villain. That's not to say he doesn't have some good scenes. Gary Valentine as George does reasonably well. And the actors doing animal voices other than the dogs are pretty good. As for the dogs, their voice actors are not that special.
The dogs seem really intelligent. I'm referring to the canine actors, of course. The characters are geniuses.
It's a family film, but not squeaky clean. It does have some bathroom humor and, while not explicit, does have some adult discussions about relationships between married people. Kids might get bored with George and Belinda's problems. Plus there are threatening situations for the dogs, but nothing too serious--I mean, look who we're dealing with. Still, it has to be geared toward kids because let's face it: most of the dialogue is apparently intended just for them.
This movie should get credit for one thing: acknowledging the true meaning of Christmas. The kids don't want to go to church on Christmas Eve, but Belinda insists and George goes along.
There seems to be an epidemic of movies where Elisa Donovan has a dog and doesn't want to spend Christmas with her mother, in which Michael Gross plays a Scrooge. Keep in mind, though, how Scrooge turned out.
It's probably worth seeing. If you like the formula of heroic pets and bumbling villains.
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