Of all the misguided movie genres, the modern family film is the most disingenuous. While it argues that it's merely providing "quality" entertainment to those underserved by Hollywood's obsession with sex and violence, the truth is that most G- to PG-rated fare is far more insidious. Applying a sugar-coated Saturday morning superficiality to what's supposed to pass for pleasantries, the Tinsel Town machine still finds a way to manufacture out all the fun. Disney's disappointing live action comedy Beverly Hills Chihuahua can be accused of a great many faults -- indirect racism, single digit IQ writing, past-tense pop culture awareness -- but one thing it cannot claim is an ability to reach beyond its typical tween demographic.
Chloe (the voice of Drew Barrymore) is the most pampered pooch in all of sunny LaLa Land. Her owner (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a rich cosmetics titan who indulges her pet's every non-human whim. When the mogul needs to fly off to Europe to launch her new line, she must rely on her prissy, high strung niece Rachel (Piper Perabo) to mind her valuable canine. Showing just how responsible she is, our substitute sitter instantly accepts an invitation to weekend in Mexico, and takes Chloe along for the unnecessary ride. Dognappers eventually hijack the hound, and it's up to an ex-cop German Shepherd (voiced by Andy Garcia), a good natured landscaper (Manolo Cardona), and his frisky Chihuahua Papi (voiced by George Lopez) to rescue the four footed female before it's too late. Article continues below
Just imagine how the amiable cast of Latin American and Hispanic actors -- names like Paul Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Luis Guzman, and Edward James Olmos -- must have felt when they learned that the House of Mouse wanted to gather them all together and feature them in a film… about dogs… who indulge in the same kind of pseudo smear stereotyping that makes Speedy Gonzales look like Placido Domingo (who's also involved here). Beverly Hills Chihuahua is not actually mean-spirited in its ethnic leanings. But it also understands that the wee ones, those who will force their parents to line up for everything related to this movie and its marketing, don't understand subtlety. So the broader and more slapstick, the better. In fact, this film is really nothing more than a below-average CG stunt where actual animals substitute for the anthropomorphized cartoon kind.
When one sees the phrase "A Film by Raja Gosnell" on the credits, it's usually time to abandon most, if not all hope. After all, this is the mediocre directorial mastermind behind the Scooby-Doo debacles, as well as other surefire stinkers like Big Momma's House and Yours, Mine, and Ours. He indulges in all kinds of shortcuts. He assumes cute will compensate for characterization while the silent-film-era damsel-in-distress plot navigates uncomfortably between mandatory music montages. Some will see this as a step up for Gosnell, since he doesn't totally embarrass himself and serves the material (and the proposed demo) quite well. And most of the time, he finds a way to match the actors with the personality of their onscreen animals.
Talking animal films have been around since the start of the artform and they can usually be counted on for providing a mindless smile or two. Beverly Hills Chihuahua doesn't stray from that sense of familiarity. It will delight those whose aesthetic is still under construction, while providing the more gullible in the adult audience a few giggles. There's even a post-modern message about responsibility thrown in for good measure. If you want true family film value, look elsewhere. This is a shallow cinematic shill at best.