Too much bark for my buck in ‘Chihuahua’

Posted Oct. 09, 2008, at 8:50 p.m.

In theaters

In addition to the week’s most recommended new release, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” two other movies opened in area theaters this week, and here’s what they have in common. Each is about as satisfying as one of those mystery grab bags offered at certain ice cream shops. Look inside, and what you find isn’t a welcome surprise, but a cold disappointment.

That certainly is true for the week’s No. 1 box office release, “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” which made an astonishing $29 million, and which now confirms that Leona Helmsley’s dog, Trouble, indeed got screwed by being willed only $12 million from the Helmsley estate. I mean, please — after licking the very fingers and toes of the Queen of Mean for who knows how long, Trouble deserved double. As for “Chihuahua,” let’s just say that $29 million is a lot of beef piled onto such a flimsy cinematic taco.

Here is a movie filled with talking dogs you watch in a theater filled with talking children. Show me the difference. Really, it’s a headache in the making (and with all that yipping and yapping, let me assure you, it was). The thing is, I haven’t even gotten to the story line, which involves the trials and tribulations of Chloe (voice of Drew Barrymore), a seriously spoiled Chihuahua decked out in diamonds and haute couture who loses her way while on vacation in Mexico.

But never fear — while her handler, Rachel (Piper Perabo), tries to find her before Chloe’s owner, Aunt Vivo (Jamie Lee Curtis), has a meltdown, Chloe soon is learning the scrappy ropes with several rough-and-tumble Mexican Chihuahuas, all of whom work hard to reinforce Mexican stereotypes while trying to teach Chloe the importance of finding herself via her bark. It’s a ghastly movie.

Speaking of Chihuahuas, one ends up dead in Robert B. Weide’s “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People,” which hails from Toby Young’s scathing 2001 book about his ruinous career at Vanity Fair magazine, which in this movie is called “Sharps.”

That angle, of course, recalls 2006’s delicious “The Devil Wears Prada,” which successfully used Meryl Streep to take on Vogue magazine and Anna Wintour. But here, even though the normally caustic Simon Pegg portrays Toby as Sidney, a British tabloid writer who comes to the U.S. believing he’s going to write biting copy for Sharps, Pegg is lost amid a stale run of dim slapstick humor.

Jeff Bridges sports a silver blowout to become a version of Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, but he isn’t thoroughly skewered — or very interesting. As Toby’s fellow writer-cum-love interest, Kirsten Dunst is a wet rag of no value — you want to scrub the screen with her and start anew. And as the young starlet Sydney wants to get into bed, Megan Fox is shallow to the point of being hollow. The only bright spot is Gillian Anderson as a celebrity publicist who is out to ruthlessly protect her clients. She gives the movie such menace and energy, you sit there wishing they’d focused more on her.

Grades: “Chihuahua”: C-; “Alienate People”: C-

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

After those disappointments, the good news is that more compelling fare awaits on home video, such as in the Blu-ray release of Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein,” an affectionate send-up of Mary Shelley’s influential novel, James Whale’s 1931 movie version of that novel, and all of the dozens of horror movie spinoffs each inspired.

Here is a movie that loves horror movies first, comedy second. If it were the other way around, the film might have been just another satire that missed its zenith because it lacked the necessary substance on which to hang its laughs. But Brooks, a master of the form, knows that good satires are only good if they can stand up to the real thing.

“Young Frankenstein” is the real thing — it’s just standing on its side. Supporting it are Gene Wilder as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein — or, more specifically and phonetically, Dr. Frahnkinshteen; his ridiculous fiancee, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn); the wall-eyed Igor (Marty Feldman); buxom Inga (Teri Garr); and the chilling Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman), who looks like Nosferatu after a sex change.

Otherwise on Blu-ray, you take your chances.

Those chances are excellent if you choose, say, “When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions,” a fine 4-disc set from the Discovery Channel that chronicles our continued efforts to explore space; Sergie Bodrov’s Academy Award-nominated “Mongol,” an engrossing epic about the early years of Genghis Khan; and the Simon Pegg comedy “Run Fatboy Run,” which is funny enough, coming through with a few memorable moments.

The Adam Sandler comedy, “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” is not to be messed with at all — the movie is typical, stereotypical trash from Sandler, with dumb jokes fueling the tired set pieces. As for “The Omen Collection,” which gathers together all four “Omen” films in clean, high-definition transfers, viewers are left with a mixed bag of tricks and treats — only the 1976 original is the standout. The others just trade off the success of that film and its long-running franchise.

Three television shows are recommended, including “My Three Sons: First Season, Vol. 1,” with Fred MacMurray puffing on that pipe as he deals with this share of bickering boys (in another era, it wouldn’t have been tobacco in that pipe given the stress he’s under); “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: The Eighth Season” is amplified beyond reason, which makes sense since it’s in this season that a major character leaves the show; and the second season of “Brotherhood,” which pits two brothers against each other while their families — and the law — stand between them.

Finally, fans of science fiction with a British twist should look to the three recent editions from the Doctor Who series, including the very good “Doctor Who: The Trial of the Time Lord,” as well as “Doctor Who: The Brain of Moribus” and “Doctor Who: The Invasion of Time.”

All are appropriately surreal, but they have nothing on the weirdness unleashed in one of the BBC’s best comedies, “Keeping Up Appearances,” the entire series of which is now available in a “Full Bouquet” edition. With Patricia Routledge’s overachieving, social climbing Hyacinth Bucket (she pronounces it “bouquet”) stopping at nothing to rise to the top of the social ladder in spite her rather questionable pedigree, the show takes on the British class system, runs hair pins through the lot of it and lays it flat. What unfolds is often so laugh-out-loud funny, it likely will have the same effect on viewers.

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of hundreds of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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