Reel Life mini-review: 'I Heart Shakey'
"I Heart Shakey" is a real heartbreaker for me to review because it was obviously made with lots of love by talented Northwest suburban artists who wanted it to be a terrific family movie about the importance of sticking together.
But, under the direction of former Hollywood executive Kevin Cooper, "I Heart Shakey" comes across as an embarrassingly juvenile, glorified made-for-TV project that you'd normally see on a Saturday morning TV lineup.
This erratic girl-and-her-dog comedy substitutes caricatures for characters, lets their lip service handle all the heavy emotional lifting, dumbs down the jokes and, for reasons I can't fathom, turns the resident dad into one of the least attractive father figures since Terry O'Quinn played "The Stepfather."
A Toledo, Ohio, widower named J.T. (Steve Lemme of the comedy troupe Broken Lizard) and his 9-year-old daughter Chandler (adorable Iowa actress Rylie Jo Behr) arrive in Chicago where he starts a new job as a chef.
When they move into their new home at the Independence Plaza, Dad didn't bother to read the fine print on the lease, which prohibits pets, such as their beloved Shakey (a New Mexico canine Ebony).
The Plaza is ruled by the priggish Estelle Willinger (respected Chicago actress Janet Ulrich Brooks), a dictatorial manager who demands Shakey get out or J.T. will lose his apartment.
The bumbling super, Oskar Jersky (Second City vet Andy St. Clair, making his movie debut), gladly enforces Willinger's edicts, even as he quakes in her presence.
Forced to take Shakey to a kennel, J.T. registers his pet with a clerk in a scene that illustrates the movie's level of comedy. The clerk first asks for the dog's name, then asks, "Breed?"
"No," J.T. replies. "He'll just jump up and down on your leg for a while!"
J.T. seems far more concerned about being Chandler's best pal instead of her supportive father. They share a special bond. But then, why not? J.T. is like her older brother.
In a shouting match, he calls Jersky an idiot. Then a moron. Later, in a physical confrontation with Miss Willinger, J.T. beats his chest and screeches "You want some of this? Let's do this!"
"You fight like a girl!" Willinger bellows. J.T. replies, "You fight like a man!"
As one character astutely comments, "Come on! Act your ages!" But nobody does except Chandler.
Clearly, "I Heart Shakey" doesn't target critics or sophisticated adults as its core audience. The actors' performances run off the Ham-O-Meter with more mugging than on a warm night in Central Park.
"Police Academy" fixture Steve Guttenberg stars as a psycho U.S. Marine who adopts Shakey for nefarious purposes. "National Lampoon's Vacation" fixture Beverly D'Angelo pops in for a thankfully brief appearance as a nasty kennel manager.
"Three Amigos" star Alfonso Arau plays J.T.'s new pal at work under the egocentric and prissy master chef Mattias Ober (Philippe Brenninkmeyer, perhaps channeling Dick Shawn) who, along with two toadies, supplies some nonobligatory gay stereotypes.
"I Heart Shakey" was shot in 3-D, mostly in Naperville, Wheaton, Lisle and Warrenville. It opens exclusively at the Hollywood Palms Cinema in Naperville. Rated PG. 93 minutes. ★ ½
(Note: I was only able to preview the movie in 2-D, and I could not say that adding an extra dimension for the eyes would do the same for the characters.)
Fireworks: a cliché?
Nothing says the Fourth of July more than fireworks, and they happen to be one of Hollywood's five most overused visual crutches employed to bump-up eye appeal.
Filmmakers fall back on all sorts of visual gimmicks to keep our eyes engaged on the silver screen, and fireworks counts as one of the easiest, because nobody needs any reason to plug them into a lagging sequence.
Even indie filmmaker Wes Anderson succumbs to the sizzling allure of fireworks in his comedy "Moonrise Kingdom."
You can find fireworks propping up the scenes in "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," "Rock of Ages," "The Rum Diaries," "Titanic," "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" and a zillion other movies.
The other top four crutches?
4. Gratuitous brightly colored balloons (they appear in more movies than you would imagine)
3. Big fans (large overhead fans are impressive, but wall-mounted fans with blue backlighting are even more impressive)
2. Carnivals or amusement parks (ideal for chasing people through, or establishing that a couple is having a fun time)
1. Strip shows (a staple of crime dramas, ideal for chasing people through, or establishing that a couple is having a bad time, as in "The Graduate")
Heads up: Steven Soderbergh's "Magic Mike" is set in a strip club, and its main couple establishes that they're having a fun time by spending time together in an amusement park.
Just so you know.
Seance for a sexy lady?
I've heard of some strange marketing techniques to get people interested in movies, but this one at Chicago's Facets Multimedia might be one for the record books.
At midnight Saturday night, Father Bruce Neal will conduct a public seance to invoke the spirit of 1950s pinup girl and kink queen Bettie Page. The seance will include live music from the Crippled Masters Orchestra, plus a video projection ritual conducted by Father Bruce Neal.
Afterward will be a screening of the nun orgy massacre movie "Alucarda." (BTW, if you spell it backward, it says " ADracula.") General admission costs $5.
For info on Facets Night School, go to bit.ly/hCjxe.
• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!