‘Rescue Dogs’: Film Review

Rescue Dogs Still - H 2016
Courtesy of Busted Buggy Entertainment
If only it were as good as the cause it espouses.

A dog helps his human battle corporate villains in a talking-animal comedy.

With its goofily serviceable plot, the live-action cartoon Rescue Dogs won't get any tails wagging. The family-friendly feature melds canine reaction shots and voiceover to a save-the-indie-business caper. Its good-natured humor hovers somewhere between grade-school and grown-up, only sporadically hitting the mark on either front. If you’re looking for a brilliant talking-animal film, it ain’t this one, babe, but it’ll do — specifically as a lead-in to potential pet adoptions; the filmmakers are partnering with rescue groups for opening-weekend events.

Directors M.J. Anderson and Haik Katsikian (who also handles d.p. duties) cast the tomfoolery in a sunny, laidback SoCal vibe. At cross-purposes with that mellow sensibility is the frenetic inner dialogue of Charger (voiced by Peter Oldring), a handsome dog whose soulfulness clearly transcends the wall-to-wall puns of Jordan Rawlins’ screenplay, not to mention a climactic action sequence that’s all about farts. Such is the actor’s life.

Charger’s human, Tracy (Paul Haapaniemi, likably unpretentious), runs a beach-shack breakfast joint that was once his grandfather’s, and uses the proceeds to help animal rescue shelters. His lack of moneymaking savvy makes him an easy target in the crosshairs of a golf-resort developer (Casey Campbell), who owns — wait for it — E-Vaul Corp. His face always in shadows or otherwise hidden, the villain has a ridiculous banker (Andrew Ryan Harvey) to do his dirty work and a hairless cat (Brian Hull) for the Austin Powers reference. No Mr. Bigglesworth, this kitty rightly bristles at the evil-feline cliché.

The race to save the restaurant involves Tracy’s ditzy “treasure hunter” brother, Harper (screenwriter Rawlins, suggesting a PG Seth Green), whose rescue dog (Tamara Garfield) keeps him in line; a surf dude (Ricardo Chacon) who rants about space ninjas; and a dance student (Courtney Daniels) who catches Tracy’s eye. Though their budding romance revolves around an ultra-dumb mistaken-identity subplot, her dwarf hamster (Fred Tatasciore), an overcompensating fitness freak, provides some laughs.

Also welcome is the wink-wink narration by a couple of sandpipers (Jessalyn Gilsig, Casey Campbell), which punctuates the increasingly broad antics with meta nudges. It’s good to see real-life rescue animals getting a moment in the spotlight. But the message of mutual rescue in the onscreen human-pet relationships has no emotional oomph. As to the fate of the variously befuddled humans, it will matter not a whit to anyone watching the silliness unfold.

Distributor: Busted Buggy Entertainment
Production companies: Busted Buggy Entertainment in association with Logolite Entertainment
Cast: Paul Haapaniemi, Jordan Rawlins, Courtney Daniels, Peter Oldring, Tamara Garfield, Fred Tatasciore, Casey Campbell, Brian Hull, Jessalyn Gilsig, Andrew Ryan Harvey, Kevin Chambers, Ricardo Chacon
Directors: M.J. Anderson, Haik Katsikian
Screenwriter: Jordan Rawlins
Producers: Daniel J. Cunningham, M.J. Anderson
Executive producer: Christopher Sepulveda
Director of photography: Haik Katsikian
Editors: Tony Wise, Jeremy Diller
Composer: Jon Licht

Rated PG, 83 minutes