Friday, February 20, 2009

Movies I Haven't Seen Yet: Hotel For Dogs Review

By Bub

Hotel for Dogs is a harrowing tale of bravery in the face of adversity. Like the similarly titled Hotel Rwanda, this movie documents genocide. It examines the events and explores the larger social factors that lead up to the massacre - deep-rooted ethnic hatreds, a volatile political environment, economic scape-goating; and tries to paint a picture of the aftermath that leaves victims and mass-murderers as neighbors. It even stars the same self-serious-smile-sporting Don Cheadle who plays the role of Bernie, the likeable but street smart hotel manager, that risks his own life in an effort to abate a modern day holocaust in whatever way possible.

German philosopher Theodor Adorno said: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” Katrina Onstad of the CBC relates this to film: “Over and over in films with genocide as a subject, the complicated morality of making art out of atrocity sits anxiously next to the simple sentimentalism that defines Hollywood.” Hotel for Dogs asks the questions ‘who would want to read poetry about Auschwitz?’ and ‘why is making art out of atrocity better than Hollywood sentimentalism?’ And then answers, ‘I would’ and ‘Watch this movie and see’. Frankly, too much of the film is spent asking and then answering rhetorical questions in what looks suspiciously like PowerPoint.

Lisa Kudrow, reprises her Friends role as ‘Phoebe’ and spends most of her screen time providing punch-lines to other characters’ jokes, and being physically longer than a human being should be. Emma Roberts of Nancy Drew fame plays Hillary Clinton, the fallen leader- the Habyarimana to Cheadle’s Paul Rusesibagina. She is assassinated by dogs in the post-apocalyptic hellscape of Barack Obama’s 2009 America. In this tale, dog wedge-issues played a much larger role in the 2008 presidential campaign than expected – euthanasia, choice (spay-neuter issues), and flea collaring. Hillary Clinton was elected president and an infuriated silent majority, this time willfully silent by choosing to be outvoted at the ballot box, decided they had had enough. They employ dogs to assassinate Hillary Clinton, leaving Vice-President Obama the titular head of government, but with the real power residing with Kevin Dillon, playing himself, who was inexplicably appointed Secretary of State. Dillon mobilizes blue-America to em’bark’ on a mass-dog-murder-spree while the impotent and rhythm-less Barack Obama stands idly by.

This is where the hotel in Hotel for Dogs comes in. Don Cheadle sees a burgeoning business opportunity in dogs. They need a place to escape genocide – he has a hotel. Bam! Hotel for Dogs. That was actually the entire transcript of the pitch-meeting for the movie. And it lives up to its promise. There is a hotel. It is for dogs. Millions of dogs are murdered, but many of the ones granted refuge in the Hotel for Dogs are spared – win, win. Especially for Kevin Dillon who to this day has escaped justice. And the Heineken product placement is a win for everybody – sour, bitter, smooth and satisfying. Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel calls Hotel for Dogs “poop obsessed”, John Anderson of Variety calls it a “Chihuahua sized concept served up in a doggy bag of contrivance and shtick”. I don’t remember them speaking that way about Schindler’s list. In fact it’s hard not to find the majority of Hotel for Dogs reviews anti-Semitic. It is exactly this virulent and hostile environment that Hotel for Dogs warns us about. We have been saying ‘never again’ since 1945. Hotel for Dogs barks it. But will this be just another dog whistle we are unable to hear?

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