DVD Review: Red Dog

A PG-rated dog movie. The dogs in dog movies are so cute. But will this one survive?

Witney Seiboldby Witney Seibold

I just reviewed Fritz Lang’s truly awesome masterpiece Die Nibelungen. Now this.

This is a straight-to-video film that is available at Walmart. It has a big friendly dog on the cover, its head hanging threateningly over a blissful couple of adult lovers, staring lovingly out into the middle distance. Josh Lucas and Rachel Taylor share top billing with first-time animal performer Koko. From this cover alone, I’m sure you can already glean if you’re going to buy a film like Red Dog. It looks like – and is – one of those blandly inspiring, completely safe PG-rated live-action family films that lazy parents pick up alongside Digimon Data Squad and/or Tinkerbell: Secret of the Wings in order that their kids consume, perhaps, something of mild substance alongside their hyperkinetic, ultra-violent Japanese cartoon shows and ultra-commercial Disney entertainments.

Will I lose any of my professional credibility if I say that Kriv Stender’s Red Dog is actually an okay movie? Seriously, I don’t mind it. Sure, it’s not exactly riveting drama, and there’s little at stake more than the life of a dog, but with Red Dog, its quaintness works somewhat to its advantage. The quaintness doesn’t give it much personality, but it at least keeps Red Dog tonally bright. It also is given a legitimately interesting setting, taking place as it does in the outback of Australia, amidst migrant workers and other lonely souls who are jus’ passin’ through.

The central character is, of course Red Dog (Koko), an evil-eyed red-haired mutt who seems to pass through life swapping masters at his whim. He is very loyal to his adopted masters, but will change hands frequently. Like The Three Lives of Thomasina, Red Dog is an episodic journey through various human lives, all seen through the eyes of the dog. There’s the goofy Italian, the mean biker, and, ultimately Josh Lucas. The dog’s presence facilitates good fortune and luck in love. The dog himself becomes a local legend. He’s kind of like a small-town Australian Norm Peterson. How much fun if Red Dog was given a hated mate that he never saw, and had to go to the local pub to escape. He’s got a dark side, that Dog. Much of the film is told in flashback to a stranger who may be present at Red Dog’s deathbed.

Whether or not the dog survives, I will leave you to discover. But when have you seen a heartwarming Poochie Pal movie wherein the dog did not die tragically? Such a cheap shot, and yet so effective. Remember that scene in The Fly II, where Eric Stoltz made Daphne Zuniga hold an adorable kitten and become attached to it before he put it in a machine that would potentially turn it inside-out? That’s what most dog movies are like. They depict an adorable doggie, let us coo over it, grow attached to it, and then take delight in killing the little critter, crushing our childlike hearts under the booth of death.

It should perhaps be noted that Red Dog is based on real-life events, so that doggie was actually out there in Australia at some point, playing the comic yenta to the locals and warming hearts in the heartland. The film is perfectly sweet, and surprisingly well filmed; the filmmakers actually seem to have some interest in the material. It stands above its Hallmark Channel brethren.

If you get the DVD, watch Koko’s screen test. It’s so dang cute.