Mr. Movie

Lots of bark, no bite in 'Hotel for Dogs'

Yes. The story concept is as dumb as it sounds.

Two orphan kids living with greedy, egocentric foster parents find the joy of family by harboring a pack of stray dogs in an abandoned hotel.

Hotel for Dogs treads heavily in after-school-TV-special territory. Emma Roberts whose last two films Nancy Drew and Aquamarine fit that category, too, stars as Andi, the big sister taking extra good care of her kid brother, Bruce.

For those not familiar, she’s also Eric’s kid and Julia’s niece.

Andi and Bruce are determined to stay together. Often in trouble for stealing and scams, they are nearly out of options and that is why they’re content to live with the two creeps. Quickly you learn the reason they’re being less-than-honest is because they have a scruffy little dog that they are forced to keep hidden.

All that scrounging for money eventually leads them to an old hotel where two other dogs are already squatting. That is not a pun. Brace yourself for plenty of dog poop jokes. They -- as you know -- are a turn-on for the movie’s target audience pre-adolescent kids.

Bruce is also a mechanical genius. He concocts all kinds of clever ways to feed and care for the growing pack of dogs. His machines add to the fun.

After connecting with some neighborhood teens, the group go to war with the local dog catchers -- oops -- not PC. I mean animal control officers. They decide they’re going to rescue every stray in town.

It also pads the plot, adds a dash of romance and helps punch up the expected happy, sappy ending.

Much of the film’s charm comes from an excellent supporting cast that features the always excellent Don Cheadle as a social worker and a terrific comic turn from Kevin Dillon and former Friends star Lisa Kudrow.

The film’s producers are smart. Plot rehash aside, it’s hard not to like 30 highly trained stunt dogs. You won’t be howling with laughter or at the moon or anything else, but the movie is surprisingly sweet.

Mr. Movie rating: 3 1/2 stars

Rated PG for mature themes. It opens Friday, Jan. 16 at the Carmike 12 and at Fairchild Cinemas 12.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.