'Beethoven's 2nd': If it looks like a dog and barks like a dog . . .

December 17, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Pity the poor sequel director. It's a can't-win job. If the movie hits, it's because the original was great; if it fails, it's because the new director's a jerk. Worse, he's got to walk the dangerous and narrow line between more-of-the-same and it's- too-different.

"Beethoven's 2nd" checks in on the it's-too-different side of the ledger. Rod Daniel has made certain changes, almost none of which work. Conspicuously, neither he nor anyone affiliated with the project appear to have sat down and rigorously analyzed the appeal of the first film.

And here's what it was: big dog, little man. As my belt just said to my waistline: something's got to give.

Nobody's more fastidious in movies than Charles Grodin. It's a very strange but vastly entertaining screen persona: He's one of those control freaks, the anal-retentive's anal-retentive, so psychologically rigid it seems he's always about to fly into pieces, a self-righteous mutterer, a smug paragon of rectitude who cannot stop explaining even as he seems to hover on the brink of a complete meltdown. These unpleasant characteristics are present even in a somewhat more lightly complected role as this one, as George Newton, manufacturer of air-fresheners and all-around suburban EveryDad.

Take that china-brittle personality and engage it with 230 pounds of a slobbery, love-hearted, tongue-happy, stinky, warm, innocently destructive thing called a dog, and you've got an endless font of laughs irrespective of plot (who even remembers the plot?) along the following lines: Can Charles Grodin take a licking and keep on ticking? That's exactly what the original "Beethoven" offered and exactly what this one doesn't.

The relationship, in short, between Grodin and the animal has been largely jettisoned in favor of some exceedingly mild melodramatics involving puppies. Now don't get me wrong. I approve of puppies. I'm in favor of puppies. Don't be saying, "Oh, that Hunter, he doesn't like puppies." I also back ice-cream cones, birthdays and the great old U.S. of A.

But . . . 90 minutes of puppies? Beethoven, to sum up, finds himself the single father of a brood (out of wedlock, I might add: Is this the message we wish to be sending to our youth today?), trying to keep the new arrivals hidden from twitchy, cranky Dad.

There's a little comic dogplay when Dad uncovers the pups, but soon enough the movie has picked up and relocated in a mountain resort district where the plot seems to revolve around everything but Beethoven.

The mother dog's evil owner -- played by Debi Mazar as a sort of Marisa Tomei from hell -- wants the pups back (they were her property, a fact which the movie somewhat conveniently ignores), her goon boyfriend acts up, Grodin's daughter is having boyfriend troubles and his son is having girlfriend troubles and his wife is having husband trouble and . . .

In "Beethoven's 2nd," it's a case of putting not the cart before the horse but the plot before the dog. As my close personal friend Duncan the wonder beagle would say, "Arf."

"Beethoven's 2nd"

Starring Charles Grodin and Debi Mazar

Directed by Rod Daniel

Released by Warner Bros.

PG

**

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