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'Firehouse Dog' needs some real warmth

In the family drama "Firehouse Dog," Rexxx , a neatnik canine, tries to convince Josh Hutcherson to clean his room. (BRUCE MACAULAY)

The closing credits of "Firehouse Dog" show Polaroids of the cast and crew's own mutts, their names scrawled beneath each picture: Boomer, Daisy, Stinky, and so forth. It's a sweet touch and, really, the first sign of a genuine dog anywhere near the movie.

Supposedly a comedy about a Hollywood canine that finds love and companionship with a big city firehouse and its boy, "Dog" actually features four different stunt Irish terriers tricked up with computer-generated special effects that give them humanoid expressions and allow them to slide down firepoles.

The effect is cute with a capital K and grotesque with a capital G, as though offscreen puppeteers were pulling digital wires to make the animals dance. "Firehouse Dog" isn't quite the equivalent of the 1999 talking-infant bomb "Baby Geniuses ," but at times it's close enough for discomfort.

That's too bad, because the human scenes in "Firehouse Dog" are perfectly acceptable on the level of a heartwarming family B-movie. Josh Hutcherson, that likeably stone-faced kid actor from "Bridge to Terabithia," plays Shane Fahey, whose father Connor (Bruce Greenwood) is the captain of Engine Co. 55, a luckless inner-city outfit known as "Dogpatch." The city wants to shut down the company and a firebug is burning the neighborhood warehouse by warehouse. One firefighter, Connor's brother and Shane's uncle, has been killed.

Into this predicament drops -- literally, from an airplane -- Rexxx, the pampered Hollywood dog star of hits like "Jurassic Bark." After a stunt gone bad lands him in the city without his telltale Elvis pompadour (!), Rexxx adopts himself into Shane's life and proves himself capable of saving lives. He also farts, burps, and poops in the firehouse chef's stew. Remember, it wouldn't be a family movie without the poop jokes.

Hutcherson has enough built-in soul to make Shane's emotional journey from grumpy to cheerful believable, and the adults don't embarrass themselves (with the exception of Dash Mihok as Rexxx's boob of a Tinseltown trainer). The arson mystery is resolved and so are father and son in a way that feels familiar but credible. The firefighting sequences are full of crashing timbers, though; this may be the first movie too scary for kids under 6 and too dumb for anyone older.

And that dog -- or, rather, that digitally enhanced replicant -- is just plain creepy. Yes, your children will laugh when Rexxx puts on the sunglasses and probably applaud when he saves the day, but I'm betting that if they've spent any time around real animals they'll recognize him for the soulless cartoon he is.

What's that you say, Lassie? The family film's in trouble? A cyborg-mutt is pooping in the stew? Go get 'im, girl.

Ty Burr can be reached at For more on movies, go to