The Karate Dog (2005)

So there’s this talking dog named Cho Cho. And he knows martial arts for some reason. And his master is murdered by a ninja, who is secretly his master’s former student. And the dog teams up with a hapless cop to bring the killer to justice. The Karate Dog is further proof that there’s no limit to how low Hollywood will stoop (and scoop?) to profit off the exploitation of cute animals.

Cho Cho, the bereaved dog, is voiced by Chevy Chase, who you’d think by now would’ve learned the folly of playing a talking dog (See Oh Heavenly Dog). But by this pre-“Community” point in his career, he was probably desperate enough to do any movie in exchange for a cold sandwich and a hot shower. This is Chase’s first leading role since Vegas Vacation, which was only marginally better than Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure.

Japanese-American actor Pat Morita, best known as Mr. Miyagi from the original Karate Kid, makes a brief appearance as Cho Cho’s master, Chin Li. Morita was cast for the sole purpose of tricking gullible viewers into believing that this cinematic dog turd might be a Karate Kid spin-off. Hey, it worked for The Next Karate Kid. And Hillary Swank is somewhat doglike in appearance so maybe it’s not such a stretch.

The Chin Li character is clearly Chinese as evidenced by the fact that he lives in Chinatown, receives letters from his brother written in Chinese characters, and that he reminisces about growing up in China, despite being played by a Japanese-American. It’s just another example of American filmmakers’ ignorance of Southeast Asian diversity. The style of martial arts used in this film is Chinese kung fu, not Japanese karate. They really should’ve called it The Kung Fu Dog, not The Karate Dog. This movie’s so bad they couldn’t even get the title right. And oddly enough, that Karate Kid remake couldn’t either.

Chin Li’s death scene looks like deleted footage from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.

I know what you’re thinking: It can’t get any more awesome than that. And you’re right. It only gets more disturbing yet mundanely surreal. There’s the typical tension and bro-like bonding between the young detective and the talking dog that you’d expect in every talking animal film. The human detective is straight-laced and awkward with the ladies whilst the dog is a smart aleck tail-chaser. (This is starting to sound uncomfortably like “Two and a Half Men.”)  There’s the scene where the detective tries to prove to his superiors that the dog can talk but the pooch pulls a Michigan J. Frog and plays mute. And then there’s the obligatory scene where the dog invites a bunch of “party animals” to a wild soiree at the detective’s house, unbeknownst to said detective.

The detective who plays the Turner to Chevy Chase’s Hooch is portrayed by ex-gay porn star Simon Rex. I’m not making this up. Look him up on IMDb or Wikipedia. The acting in this particular scene is what tipped me off:

I’m pretty sure the screenwriters stole this scene from “Poochinsky,” the failed TV pilot about a murdered cop who’s reincarnated as a talking dog.

It’s hard enough for porn stars (pun definitely intended) to make it into mainstream cinema – most end up in schlocky sci-fi/horror T & A fests (Jenna Jameson, Zombie Strippers!) and those that do make it end up playing parodies of themselves or appearing simply for the sake of novelty (Ron Jeremy). But Simon Rex not only broke into the mainstream but into something as wholesome as a children’s movie – in a lead role no less. That’s unprecedented. But then again, judging by the quality of this film, it’s likely they only hired Rex because Jimmy Fallon was unavailable.

Yet the worst acting in this film doesn’t come from an ex-gay porn star. Nor does it come from My Name is Earl alum Jamie Pressly, who’s even less convincing as an FBI agent than Denise Richards as a rocket scientist in The World is Not Enough. It comes from the Oscar-winning Jon Voight, whose turn as the villainous Hamilton Cage is charged with more manic insanity than Christopher Walken and Nicolas Cage combined! His character is even named Cage. And he sports a distractingly bad Southern accent, ugly ponytail, and even uglier faux-snake skin Asian-inspired attire, and is prone to lengthy bouts of maniacal laughter – all hallmarks of a wacky Nic Cage performance.

The fictional Cage, a biotech billionaire, secretly injects his racing greyhounds with Lot 99, a lethal experimental performance enhancer, in order to make millions at the track. This plan blatantly rips off the plot of the James Bond film A View to a Kill, which coincidentally starred Christopher Walken as the villain. Chin Li tries to stop him and is murdered. Cage starts injecting himself with the suspect serum, which gives him super speed, super strength and super insanity.

As if that wasn’t weird enough, Cage starts holding press conferences just to show off his ability to do rad backflips.

Truth be told, if I could do backflips like that I’d be holding press conferences too.

This clusterfuck of a film culminates in an epic kung fu duel pitting Cage against Cho Cho. I lack the ability to articulate just how noodle-scratchingly nuts this sequence is. Heck, most languages lack the vocabulary to describe its lunacy. So here’s a sampling:

First of all, it’s obvious why Nicolas Cage turned down the role: If he were allowed to convey that level of lunacy, the fiery intensity of his performance would surely have caused the Earth to explode!

Secondly: Jon Voight breakdances?! I think we all need an animated GIF of that:

You’re welcome, Internet.

Thirdly, Cho Cho would’ve been able to identify his master’s killer instantly because dogs have an amazingly acute sense of smell. And don’t give me that “It’s a kids’ movie” bullshit, it’s a factoid even young children know. Bad screenwriter! Bad, bad!

Fortunately that oversight is immediately remedied by what is possibly one of the best bad moments in cinematic history:

I don’t know whether to laugh, to cry, or to cry laughing.

But the real cherry on top of this surreal shit sundae of a movie is the final scene, which involves a dog singing a love song to a cat. The more I think about it, the more my brain hurts.

The image of that sad-eyed Dalmatian playing the cello haunts my nightmares. It’s so horrific and cruel, like something out of a David Lynch or Lars Von Trier film.

Bob Clark directed this dogpile. He used to actually direct great movies, like the original Black Christmas and A Christmas Story. Even many of his lesser efforts, like Porky’s, were competent pieces of filmmaking. But by the end of his career he was directing dreck like Baby Geniuses and SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2, which also starred Jon Voight as an over-the-top villain. What the heck happened to Clark and Voight? Maybe they made some sort of Faustian deal in which they’d have success and critical acclaim early on in their careers in exchange for decades of forced participation in humiliatingly bad films.

You’d think that after over 70 years of talking pictures they’d make at least one talking dog movie that doesn’t suck. Maybe I’m expecting too much from a genre dominated by bad animal puns and scatological humor. But I don’t think so. If Babe could elevate the talking pig movie genre above the mediocre level of Gordy, then surely similar lofty heights are possible for talking dogs. After all, both pigs and dogs are known for their intelligence, not just rolling in their own feces.

My Score

1 Pissing Pooch out of 5

All the problems with this movie could’ve been solved by not making this movie.

Originally posted on Fun Time Internet on July 9, 2010

1 thought on “The Karate Dog (2005)

  1. Pingback: Hot To Trot (1988) | Lackluster Video

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