The end of days is not upon us … or, at least not because of Beverly Hills Chihuahua.
Sure, cinematic suns sure seemed to turn to sackcloth when its trailer popped up. Parents, uncles, aunts and siblings all quivered in fear at an army of singing, dancing, wisecracking, computer-generated Chihuahuas surrounding ancient ruins. It was a scene so horrifying it spawned a YouTube subculture of viewers’ stunned reactions.
It’s a happy report that the preview’s bark is far, far worse than the movie’s bite. There is a massive Chihuahua brigade (fronted by Placido Domingo, no less), but thankfully no such musical number.
In fact, outside of the first half-hour, there’s really nothing terrible about Chihuahua at all. It’s got occasional paws for cultural enrichment and geographical detail. The plot respectably reflects on roots and responsibilities. And the coda is commendable for a pet-adoption advocacy message that stresses research and readiness for ownership.
Chloe is the titular teacup-sized dog, given flatter-than-expected voice by Drew Barrymore. Chloe is more than a pet to cosmetics maven Vivian Ashe (Jamie Lee Curtis, for whom this certainly is no Freaky Friday). She’s a pampered child with her own spa appointments and a poolside posse in whose shared company they all speak.
The lounging quartet of friends (including an effeminate pug voiced by Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie) watches landscaper Sam (Manolo Cardona) and his helper dog Papi (voiced by George Lopez), who has an itch behind his ear he’d like Chloe to scratch.
When accommodations to watch Chloe while Vivian is on a business trip fall through, Vivian tabs her reckless niece, Rachel (Piper Perabo), to fill in.
Eight long years after Coyote Ugly, Perabo probably hoped she’d get roles meant for Hilary Swank, not Hilary Duff. Perabo neither looks, nor conveys, the irresponsible ingénue here. More than anyone else, she looks embarrassed to be involved.
When Rachel and her gal-pals hightail it to Mexico for a getaway, Chloe tags along but is soon snatched up by proprietors of a dog-fighting ring. That this scene is played for slight screwball laughs, and with “Bad to the Bone” on the soundtrack, is as truly distasteful as Chihuahua gets.
Cornered by the vicious Diablo (voice of Edward James Olmos), Chloe is saved by Delgado (voice of Andy Garcia) – a reluctantly heroic German Shepherd with a past. It’s the script’s nice tweak on the troubled-cop trope.
Tracked by Diablo, the duo attempts a run for the border. Meanwhile, Rachel, Sam and Papi join forces to find Chloe themselves before Vivian returns home.
Garcia’s gruff weariness makes for a few moving moments. Lopez has amusing “romantic poetry” that he recites to Chloe but is far less interesting when adhering to Mexican hothead stereotypes. And Domingo, though not allowed to sing, impresses as Montezuma, the booming leader of indigenous Chihuahuas tired of wearing silly hats and being named “Fifi.”
The special breed of Babe films aside, Chihuahua is about as good as it gets when it comes to talking-animal films. It isn’t as subversive or inventive as the entertaining Cats and Dogs, but it comes far closer than expected.
In the end, Chihuahua is an old-dog family film incapable of new tricks – content with, and modestly charming because of, its commitment to practiced routines.