Grown-ups might not roll over for "Show Dogs," but children almost surely will. With its fart jokes and smart-alecky canines, this talking-animal comedy is aimed at a young audience anyway. For dog-loving adults, well, it's engaging enough to make them prick up their ears.
We first meet Max, a Rottweiler police dog voiced by rapper Ludacris, as he's staking out a gang of animal traffickers in a dangerous nighttime operation on the docks. As the K-9 officer reassures a frightened baby panda that everything will be all right, he lunges for the shadowy figure who has emerged from the darkness to purchase the cuddly contraband. But that man (Will Arnett) turns out to be an undercover FBI agent named Frank, working without the knowledge or cooperation of local authorities.
Frank and Max are furious at each other, each believing he was this close to nailing the ringleader of the criminal operation. But under questioning by Frank, one of the mob's underlings coughs up a tip - mostly in fear of the Rottweiler's teeth - leading Frank and Max to Las Vegas, where they become reluctant partners. Next thing you know, they're going undercover at the world's most prestigious dog show.
This buddy movie/cop comedy takes its cue from such police-dog stories as "Turner and Hooch" - which it directly references - as well as the 1990 TV pilot "Poochinski," in which the ghost of a murdered detective ends up inhabiting a gassy English bulldog.
But the elements of a police procedural ultimately play underdog to the glamorous kennel show, a setting that serves as a front for an exotic-animal trade. Frank enlists the aid of a seasoned dog handler (Natasha Lyonne), while Max is befriended by a former star show dog (Stanley Tucci) who went mad and was sent to the pound.
Director Raja Gosnell is no stranger to this much-maligned genre, with two live-action "Scooby Doo" films under his belt, as well as "Beverly Hills Chihuahua." As such things go, you can do much worse, with "Show Dogs" sitting somewhere in the middle of a spectrum that runs from the minor cult classic "An Easter Bunny Puppy" to Barry Sonnenfeld's inventive "Nine Lives."