'Show Dogs': Film Review

Nice try, but you can't teach a mangy concept new tricks.

Will Arnett and a Rottweiler voiced by rapper-actor Ludacris make like 'Turner & Hooch' in this family-friendly comedy.

Where that much-maligned subgenre known as the talking dog movie is concerned, it's all about pedigree.

And thanks to some creative character casting and a self-aware script that isn't averse to poking fun at itself, Show Dogs emerges as a high-concept family comedy that manages to avoid being taken for the runt of the litter, even if it doesn't really bring anything fresh and different to the arena.

Essentially a thematic crossbreeding of Turner & Hooch and Best in Show, the international co-production may not win any judges' points for originality, but the buddy-cop pairing of Will Arnett with a streetwise Rottweiler, engagingly voiced by Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, could still fetch some modest kid-skewing box office for distributor Open Road.

Ludacris' Max is a lone wolf of an NYPD police dog who butts heads with Arnett's federal agent Frank Mosley while attempting to take down an animal smuggling ring that has just snatched a cute baby panda (is there any other kind?).

When Max finds out the bad guys are planning to sell Ling-Li at the upcoming Canini Invitational dog show in Las Vegas, he's forced to go undercover as an entrant, accompanied by fellow alpha male Frank, posing as his trainer.

Upon his arrival, Max receives some valuable tutelage from the embittered Philippe (Stanley Tucci), a former champion of a pompous French papillion, before meeting the competition, including Daisy (Jordin Sparks), a self-possessed Australian Shepherd, and Karma (Shaquille O'Neal), a Zen-centered, dreadlocked Komondor.

Also in the running is Dante (Alan Cumming), a full-of-himself Yorkshire terrier; Sprinkles (Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias), an excitable pug; and Persephone (RuPaul), a decidedly colorful something-or-other.

They all go through their predictable paces, but director Raja Gosnell, who went to the dogs years ago directing a pair of Scooby-Doo features as well as Beverly Hills Chihuahua, choreographs it all with a breezy efficiency, working from an it-is-what-it-is, pop-culture-referencing screenplay by Max Botkin (the source of the K9 cop's name) and Marc Hyman that tends to hit its mark more than it misses.

But it's ultimately the characterizations that give the production a paw up on the competition, and the vocal contributions of a terrific Ludacris (there's unmistakably a bit of Samuel L. Jackson in his performance), an entertaining Tucci and Cumming, in particular, keep things lightly amusing.

Joining a game Arnett on the two-legged side, meanwhile, is Natasha Lyonne, taking the gig in between shooting episodes of Orange Is the New Black, in the role of Mattie, an FBI canine consultant who helps show Frank the competitive ropes.

The film was shot primarily at Pinewood Studios Wales (home to BBC's Sherlock as well as The Bastard Executioner), aside from some Las Vegas exteriors work that features a prominently positioned Caesars Palace.

Production companies: Global Road Entertainment, Riverstone Pictures, Wales Screen, LipSync, Kintop Pictures, Alive Entertainment
Distributor: Open Road
Cast: Will Arnett, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Natasha Lyonne, Jordin Sparks, Stanley Tucci, Shaquille O'Neal, Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias, Alan Cumming, RuPaul
Director: Raja Gosnell
Screenwriters: Max Botkin, Marc Hyman
Producers: Deepak Nayar, Philip Von Alvensleben
Executive producers: Tom Ortenberg, Nik Bower, Raja Gosnell, Max Botkin, Scott Lambert, Kassee Whiting, Yu-Fai Suen, Robert Norris, Norman Merry
Director of photography: David Mackie
Production designer: Amanda McArthur
Costume designer: Claire Finlay Thompson
Editors: David Freeman, Sabrina Plisco
Composer: Heitor Pereira
Casting director: Michelle Guish

Rated PG, 92 minutes