'Beethoven': the paws that refreshes

April 06, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

"Beethoven" divides the world into two elementary, unbridgeable halves: those who are owned by dogs and those who are not.

If you've never spent the night with a fat beagle rammed up against you, and listened sleeplessly as he snores like a drunken old man, felt him beam rancid breath in your ear, radiate body heat like pure steam, slurp, urp, burp, stretch, yawn, yap and yip, and of course, announce with a throaty aria at 3 a.m. his desire to "go out," then this probably isn't the movie for you.

For the rest of us, it's a dream of pure dog love, its manifold flaws somewhat finessed by the good humor and adoration it slathers upon the true rulers of the planet. Charles Grodin, Mr. Fussy, is just the perfect foil for Beethoven, who appears to be a 7,000-pound St. Bernard with the IQ of Albert Einstein and the social graces of Urk the Caveman.

Thus, much of the film is hilarious as it depicts Beethoven's carefully choreographed destruction of Mr. Fussy's carefully tended private world in a suburban Eden so over-controlled that he makes his three kids arise at 7 a.m.-- on Saturday. Beethoven's binges teach him both humility and humanity.

This delightful core-story, alas, is buried in a less effective cocoon of melodrama involving Dean Jones as a veterinarian who kidnaps dogs to test explosive ammunition on them

for the CIA.

"Beethoven" means to be the kind of mild, live-action comedy that the Disney studio used to throw out in bunches, usually starring Dean Jones as the good guy, not the bad guy. Toward the end, it over-indulges in routine melodrama that soon edges into utter preposterousness.

Still, anyone who's ever been melted by the look of wet, brown contrition the mutt throws out after he's tunneled through the garbage and hidden potato skins in the sofa will love it.

'Beethoven'

Starring Charles Grodin.

Directed by Brian Levant.

Released by Universal.

Rated PG.

***

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