- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 7, 2007

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on commonsensemedia.org.

‘Firehouse Dog’

Rating: PG for sequences of action peril, some mild crude humor and language.

Common Sense Media: On. For ages 6 and older.

*** (out of five stars)

Running time: 111 minutes

Common Sense review: In the canine adventure genre, “Firehouse Dog” isn’t the next “Air Bud” or “Beethoven” franchise in the making, but it’s a sweet enough pooch pic with just enough laughs — and heart — to save it from the formulaic mediocrity of many family-friendly flicks.

Shane (Josh Hutcherson, whose considerable on-screen charm and expressive face make him destined for at least an entire adolescence in Hollywood) is asked by his fire-captain dad (Bruce Greenwood) to take care of an outgoing mutt who was saved from a local fire. Dewey is no ordinary dog, however — he’s really Hollywood top dog Rex, star of such blockbusters as “The Fast and the Furriest” and “Jurassic Bark.” Presumed dead after a film stunt gone awry, Rex starts to dig his new life as Shane’s — and later the firehouse’s — wonder dog.

While the movie’s marketing emphasizes all of Rex’s dog tricks — and there are plenty — “Firehouse Dog” also touches on some heavier themes. Shane and his dad are still mourning the death of a relative who perished in a mysterious fire. Shane skips school and disobeys his father’s rules, and the captain’s squad is devolving quickly into the fire department’s “last on the scene” joke. To add to the drama, an arsonist threatens to destroy the entire neighborhood surrounding the firehouse.

Fear not, families, it’s still a children’s flick — so Shane, Rex and the eclectic crew of firefighters eventually come to the rescue. Before the final fire is put out, father and son have a touching heart-to-heart, and Rex decides that living like a star is nothing compared to being a hero. That’s not a bad message for media-saturated children or their celebrity-obsessed parents.

Common Sense note: Parents need to know that this doggy adventure includes unexpected dramatic elements — like Shane’s fear that his fire-captain dad will die. Known for ditching school and disobeying his father, Shane has behavioral and communication issues. He and his father also both deal with grieving the recent loss of a relative. A few fiery sequences may be too intense for very young children, even though no one gets hurt.

Families can talk about how the movie deals with gender roles. Is being a firefighter only for boys? Also, what messages does the movie send about society’s values by contrasting Rex’s Hollywood life with his adventures as a fire dog? Parents can ask their children: Would you rather be a Hollywood star or a firefighter? Why? Can you think of other movies that feature heroic dogs?

Sexual content: The two fire captains, their children and their dogs all flirt with each other. Rex’s original owner and manager hug and hold hands. A female firefighter wears a sexy gown that makes her colleagues stare.

Language alert: Basic PG curses: “jerk,” “stupid,” etc.

Violence alert: A few flashbacks to the day a firefighter died and a couple of intense fire scenes that might frighten younger children, even though no one ends up hurt.

Commercialism alert: Shane owns all of the following: Mac laptop, IPod, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 2, Tony Hawk T-shirt, Green Day poster.

Social-behavior alert: Shane has behavioral issues, but he and the captain finally communicate and work through their father-son problems. A female firefighter is a good role model: She’s just as tough as her male counterparts but also can dress up in a fancy outfit. A benefit gala includes a brief glimpse of partygoers drinking champagne.

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