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January 16, 2009|By Chris Kaltenbach

Hotel for Dogs * 1/2 ( 1 1/2 STARS)

Dogs are cute, and they deserve to be happy. Adults are mean and clueless, especially those who don't like dogs. And cute kids should be able to get away with anything.

Such are the three basic lessons of Hotel for Dogs, a big-time serving of Doggie Love that's really little more than a canine-of-the-month calendar that moves. Dogs of almost every breed are featured, all of them as adorable and photogenic as can be. Yeah, there are human actors involved - Emma Roberts and Jake T. Austin are Andi and Bruce, orphaned kids who bounce from foster home to foster home - but not one leaves anything of an impression.

The plot is pretty thin stuff. Andi and Bruce live in Central City with foster parents (Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon, wasted) who neglect them and won't put up with their dog, Friday. Thanks to some fairy dust or something, the two kids end up inside an abandoned hotel they turn into not only a home for Friday, but for every other stray dog in Central City. Of course, if the mean old adults find out about this place, they'll want to close it down.

Look, I love dogs. But this film tried my patience almost beyond endurance. Want to take your kid to a movie that understands how great dogs are? Go see Marley & Me. Then take the money you save by not seeing Hotel for Dogs and buy a cute-dog calendar; it'll prove a lot more endearing, certainly a lot less cloying.

Time 100 minutes. Rated PG for mild language and crude humor.

Chris Kaltenbach

Paul Blart: Mall Cop ** ( 2 STARS)

Paul Blart: Mall Cop spends its first half mocking its title character for being fat, the second half laboring to turn him into a hero. Which, at least in the world of executive producer Adam Sandler, is the surest-fire formula around - first be giddy and abusive, then get all sentimental. Sure, you'll laugh at times. But you'll feel guilty about it later.

Kevin James is Paul Blart. He's fat. He's clueless. He's hypoglycemic (which, in the world of this movie, means he falls asleep instantly when his blood sugar gets too low). And he takes his job at an East Orange, N.J., mall way too seriously.

An ever-game James provides laughs, mostly at the expense of his considerable bulk and the Segway he pilots so expertly. But when it comes time to make Blart a hero, things just get ridiculous. The bad guys just seem like a bunch of X-Games rejects, and Blart's ingenuity proves way more effective than it has any right to be. You might chuckle occasionally as the film drones on to a close, but mostly you'll be wondering when it will all end.

Time 87 minutes. Rated PG for language and crude humor.

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