Cool Dog / 2010
dir: Danny Lerner
screenplay: Danny Lerner, Les Weldon
starring: Michael Paré, Jackson Pace, Christa Campbell
Cool Dog is a children’s movie, but not the good kind, like you want, with clever bits that will make parents nod approvingly while the kids giggle. It’s the sort of children’s movie that ruins the day of any adults in earshot and assumes that their children are heinously, criminally stupid. It’s like the proverbial car wreck you can’t look away from, but if that car wreck was really irritating and you didn’t mind looking away to nap for a bit, which I can only imagine is a necessary step for viewing Cool Dog to completion.
The titular “cool dog” is named Rainy, and you learn quickly just how cool he is as he delivers some mail, rings the old town bell to tell people who are already awake that they’re probably late for something important, is fawned over by black people, and winks at the camera two times in the first three minutes. He also saves a little girl’s life, but it doesn’t really matter. Cool Dog is essentially just a series of events held together by the premise that Rainy is the greatest dog EVER, and that his human overlords are fucking morons. The thin plot runs like so: little Jimmy’s dad gets a vague promotion from the insurance company he works for, the family has to move from silly little Eagle Rock, Louisiana to FUCKIN’ NEW YORK CITY!, but they can’t take Rainy because “the apartment the company’s paying for doesn’t allow pets,” so they leave Rainy at “the fairgrounds,” then Rainy escapes and finds the family in New York, where there is trouble because of the whole thing from before about pets, but then Rainy uncovers an illegal exotic animal smuggling ring run by the building’s landlords.
Now if you were to say that, except maybe for the animal smugglers, this doesn’t all sound so bad, just pretty standard and dull, you obviously have not yet watched Cool Dog. To see Cool Dog is the only way to truly understand Cool Dog. If you’re only reading this, you are missing an incredible opportunity to be baffled by its script, confounded by any number of the odd choices made by its stars, and pushed to the brink of self-immolation by the editing and direction.
Think about the things you really value in the movies you love, both good and bad. A great movie will show you layered characters inhabiting a fully-realized world and engaged in a story that resonates with you on multiple levels. It would be insane to say that Cool Dog ever aspired to be anything like “a great movie,” and if director and co-writer Danny Lerner – the man behind the lens of three movies about shark attacks, two movies about dogs, and a 2009 Dolph Lundgren vehicle, natch – told me himself that it did, I would laugh in his face. But it lacks even the fun elements that make the I-can’t-believe-this-movie-even-exists type movie so great. In fact, it even takes one of my favorite bad-movie tropes, the stilted and nonsensical acting of already crummy dialogue, and makes it flat-out annoying. It’s just one sad looking but brilliant German shepherd navigating a world run by absolute fools, black-toothed animal rapists, and really insensitive parents.
I mean it literally when I say he navigates it. After escaping from the aforementioned animal raping caretaker of “the fairgrounds” – whoever gave that actor the instruction to play up how much he loves to have sex with barnyard animals and seem especially wary of Jimmy’s merely platonic love for his dog really nailed it – Rainy finds his way to the safety of a moving train, whereupon he enters the 1930s and encounters some lovely boxcar hobos.
The movie takes a turn now when something incredible happens: Rainy helps one of the bums with a game of checkers by grasping one of the pieces in his paw and winning it. Then he drives the train. And he boards a freighter coming up the East River. And he drives that, too. And now he’s roaming New York City. And now’s on the subway. And now he’s in Harlem’s 125th Street station, foiling a mugging. And then he takes down a trio of nogoodniks messing with a homeless man’s cart late at night in a park. And then I guess he sleeps, but then he takes off in the morning, once again making a significant impact on a person’s life only to run away in search of another heroic thrill.
I won’t even bother running down the rest of the list of fucking crazy things the dog does. Actually one more: Rainy steals and drives a car in a brief scene that serves no purpose and results in nothing, save for a shot of the dog suddenly wearing sunglasses. So anyway, Rainy and Jimmy are obviously reunited, but here a problem arises: there are still forty minutes left in the movie. So a brand new plot comes up, that animal smuggling business from earlier. Turns out the landlords of this building, a comically mismatched skinny dork and his gruesome fat wife, are storing exotic creatures (mostly parrots and kangaroos, of course) in the building’s basement. There’s a piano down there, too, and in celebration of the kangaroo’s newfound freedom by Rainy’s paws, Rainy plays a little waltz.
A good question to ask at this point, without pausing the movie, mind you, because it doesn’t matter, is, “Why would Jimmy’s dad’s insurance firm move this family into a building that looks very classy on the outside but is apparently a hellhole owned by these two monstrous criminals?” And of course the answer, as cackled by the intrepid Danny Lerner as he bathes in his (rented) swimming pool full of nickels, is, “Kids are so stupid, they don’t care! They’ll never notice!”
Now, I know not every movie for children can have be Pixar-level metaphorical or have Disney-quality artistry or feature adults as driven and coherent as Gordon Bombay in The Mighty Ducks and star kids as authentic and I-want-to-be-friends-with-those-guys fun as The Sandlot, but Cool Dog is just such a fucking mess. If I was a parent and my child made me watch Cool Dog, I would be intensely displeased with that kid for days to come. And worse yet, if my child honestly enjoyed Cool Dog, I would be overcome with shame, and forced to reevaluate my approach to parenting. Off in the distance, I can hear Lerner shout, “What do you care? It’s not even for you!” That’s fair, and true. And sure, some kids are so stupid, but I think it’s dangerous to cater to the assumption that children have a six-second attention span by making a disingenuous trash heap like Cool Dog, a film in which the dog is the only decent actor, and honestly, even he’s not so great. Is this movie the exception or the rule? There has to be something in between your big-time blockbuster family movies, but does it have to be this?
In the end, the landlords, who tried to kidnap Jimmy and ship him to Mexico by freighter after he stumbled upon their secret parrot-ridden basement, are arrested. But wait! Rainy died! An incredible twist! So many weak fake tears. (No fewer than six adult men try their hand at poor stage-crying in Cool Dog.) A hero’s death, for sure, fully validating his – oh, nevermind, he’s alive, and everyone’s happy now. Rainy gets the key to the city, and the last line of the movie comes from Jimmy’s step-mom (played by a woman who has no comprehension of how to mimic a Southern accent and looks like Yasmin Bleeth stuffed her face full of rigid plastic shards): “That’s my dog. Rainy.” Finally, the cold and mostly unnecessary stepmother character warms her heart just enough to assert ownership over an animal that she’d been indifferent towards for the majority of the movie. Man, this thing sure is a waste of – holy shit Cool Dog has its own theme song!?