But the wonder pup lives and, in a modest backwater, finds meaning as a work dog, rescuing humans as he rescues himself from the pampered precincts of privilege.
Firehouse Dog is a touching, family-friendly entertainment about a dog and his boy - in this case Rexxx, who is rechristened Dewey, and Shane (Josh Hutcherson), a troubled tween who becomes the dog's first human reclamation project.
The pensive Hutcherson, lately seen in Little Manhattan, Zathura: A Space Adventure, and Bridge to Terabithia, is emerging as the Jodie Foster of Generation Y. (With his crooked grin and spray of freckles, he even looks enough like Foster to be mistaken for her son.)
With each successive film Hutcherson dives deeper into his reservoir of shame and hurt and hope, unnerving for one so young, but also unusually urgent for an actor of any age. It is his performance, nicely complemented by that of Bruce Greenwood as Shane's single dad, Connor, that grounds Firehouse Dog in the realm of real emotions.
Rexxx/Dewey (played by four Irish terriers) lacks the animal magnetism of movie pooches such as Lassie, Beethoven, Benji or - my favorite cine-canine - Fly, the border collie in Babe. This may be because the filmmakers don't give him a human voice and he must act only with moist eyes and tilted neck. Though Dewey doesn't register so strongly, one perceives his effect on the human characters, which is the movie's intention.
Not only does the dog humanize the humans, which is usually the point of films like this, but the humans let the pooch be a work dog instead of a show dog, which makes it unusual.
In a film that's effectively the canine version of Doc Hollywood, the title character learns to sift false from true values. It's barking up the right tree.
Firehouse Dog ***
Produced by Michael Colleary and Mike Werb, directed by Todd Holland, written by Claire-Dee Lim, Mike Werb and Michael Colleary, photography by Victor Hammer, music by Jeff Cardoni, distributed by 20th Century Fox.
Running time: 1 hour, 51 mins.
Shane Fahey. . . Josh Hutcherson
Connor Fahey. . . Bruce Greenwood
Joe Musto. . . Bill Nunn
Pep Clemente .............Mayte Garcia
Parent's guide: PG (suspense, animal in peril)
Showing at: area theaters
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@
phillynews.com. Read her movie blog, Flickgrrl, at http://blogs.