[Editor’s Note: In light of concerns about several controversial scenes in this film, Plugged In and Focus on the Family have chosen to remove our normal family-friendly rating, as well as our colored warnings for viewers of various ages.]
Max is a dedicated NYPD police dog. But if that makes you think of some TV mutt sniffing boxes at the airport, you're barking up the wrong tree.
Max, you see, is a canine detective who solves the crimes. And he's happy to do it all on his own. He'll leap into any confrontation, subdue the baddies, then drag them off to jail with their collars in his teeth.
That is, he would … if his human police partners would just get out of his way once in a while. The problem is, his clumsy handlers tend to treat him like a second-class citizen.
In fact, he was about to crack a Panda-smuggling ring wide open recently when some bumbling FBI guy named Frank blundered into him down at the docks. It was like a dog-and-pony show: Every time Max was ready to bite into the perpetrators, that Frank dude would come running in and mess things up.
It's enough to make a good dog growl.
So Max is fit to be tied—or at least put on a leash—when he finds out the next day that the chief wants him to work with Frank in an undercover sting operation. The authorities have received a hot tip that smugglers are plotting to sell some contraband animals at a Las Vegas dog show. And Max and Frank have been tagged to pose as contestants in the dog show.
Well, this is a barkingly bad idea if you ask Max. I mean, he's no wimpy sit-on-a-cushion-and-eat-grapes show dog! Max is from the streets. He chows down whatever gets thrown in his bowl. And if someone thinks Max is going to submit to one of those show-dog bikini-wax treatments, well that someone should prepare to lose a finger. Or three.
But … this plan is probably the best way to get back on the scent of those ruthless crooks. So Max agrees to partner up.
Oh, the indignities a seasoned police dog must put up with just to take a bite out of crime.
Though they are initially at odds, Max and Frank eventually come to respect and support each other. In fact, that get-along-with-others-philosophy is a central theme here. One of the show dogs even spells it out clearly, saying, "Everything works out a whole lot better when we trust others and show them respect."
Along with that lesson, Max and Frank also make a number of self-sacrificial choices in the course of solving their case.
A seasoned show dog named Philippe agrees to help Max prepare for the dog show. And at one point he prays, "Dear Lord, please forgive my student's ignorance."
Another dog named Karma repeatedly voices spiritual-sounding statements. Among them, he uses the Hindu greeting "Namaste," and he encourages others to meditate on their situations.
Some of the female dog handlers wear formfitting, low-cut outfits. A male handler ushers in his dog while shirtless.
A trainer offers to let Max breed with his dog. Max and another female show dog share a "kiss," à la that iconic canine canoodle in Lady and the Tramp. Frank repeatedly cups Max's nether regions (off-camera) to prepare him for the judge's on-stage inspection of him, encouraging Max to distract himself by going to his “zen” place. These controversial scenes, which involve the dog being repeatedly groped and needing to keep quiet during the process, have led the National Center on Sexual Exploitation to say, “The movie Show Dogs sends a troubling message that grooms children for sexual abuse.” (For more on these scenes and the issues involved with them, as well as our decision to remove our normal family-friendly rating from this film, check out our blogs here and here.)
We see thumping police action scenes where both canine and human cop take tumbles. In one of them, a guy waves around and fires a gun. And a whirling propeller blade comes threateningly close to slicing up a sweet-looking panda (before Max saves the day).
Several people get hit with heavy objects during physical struggles. A couple of them are knocked out cold. A Bengal tiger stalks up behind someone, baring his teeth. The camera cuts away, but we later see the human victim with bandages and scratches on his face and upper body.
Max bites Frank's backside. In turn, Frank threatens to "neuter that mongrel."
CRUDE OR PROFANE LANGUAGE
Two uses of "d--n" join an unfinished "sh—." We also hear the incomplete outburst "son of a …" Other mild exclamations include "dang," "freakin'," "heck," "gosh" and turd.
DRUG AND ALCOHOL CONTENT
Max promises an informant some catnip in exchange for information. But he gives the dog a plastic squeeze toy instead, saying, "It's better for ya'."
OTHER NEGATIVE ELEMENTS
The film includes some predictable toilet humor—though perhaps not quite as much as I'd anticipated. During a grooming session, Max passes gas in a tub where he's being scrubbed. He purposely distracts some humans by dragging his backside around on a carpeted floor. And a group of deputized pigeons wonder if someday their feathery descendants will "poop on statues of us."
Show Dogs is a kids' movie through and through. If you consider its story and presentation on a graduated scale—say, one that ranges from whine and scratch on the low end all the way up to a family pleasing tail-wag peak—this pic probably qualifies as a Saturday-matinee chew toy that lands on the less-enthusiastic, flea-bitten side of the scale. It feels like a talking-dog version of Miss Congeniality: a canine caper the youngsters will giggle at even as parents roll their eyes wearily.
On the plus side, it actually has plenty of action and less doggy doo-doo humor than I expected. And in the negative column, there are some extended dog-private-parts-inspection moments and a couple uses of the word "d--n" that really should have been left on the cutting room floor.