Monday, 27 August 2012

Film Review | Beethoven (1992)

Having written and directed a host of films throughout the '80s that have since gained everything from mainstream to cult adoration, John Hughes moved into slightly more safe territory in the '90s aiming squarely at the family market. Hughes continued to have considerable success, but seemingly hedged his bets with which of the films he wrote he would actually put his name to. In some cases, such as Home Alone or the 1994 remake of Christmas favourite Miracle On 34th Street, Hughes is clear to see within the credits; in others, Hughes chose the literary-flavoured "Edmond Dantès" as his pseudonym, possibly to protect himself from slightly less surefire hits. Beethoven falls into the second category, and whilst its never classic cinema, Hughes could have safely slapped his name on this and kept his reputation intact.

Beethoven follows the so-named St. Bernard who, after escaping being stolen from a pet shop to be used for illegal animal testing, winds up as the pet of the Newton family led by father George (Charles Grodin), who quickly develops a love-hate relationship with the huge hound.

As far as harmless family entertainment goes, Beethoven fits the bill. Yes, in many ways it goes down the well-trodden path of many that have gone before it - there's a montage to show Beethoven growing from lovable puppy to hulking St. Bernard, complete with puppy pee jokes and dad Grodin getting the rough end of the deal whilst the rest of the family get to pet and play with the new addition - but there's enough here to raise Beethoven securely a notch or two above more forgettable entries into the genre. 

The major component in this is Grodin; the role of harassed middle-class father might not be the most original, but Grodin makes it his own. It's also hard to deny the chemistry that he and his canine co-star share. Many of the laughs, as well as some of the film's more touching moments, happen when Grodin and the dog are on screen together. Add to this some able support from Bonnie Hunt as wife and mother Alice, as well as some early appearances in supporting roles from recognisable names such as Stanley Tucci, Oliver Platt and David Duchovny (who hams it up well as a smarmy business associate of George's) and suddenly Beethoven reveals itself as a much more appealing product than it might first appear. 

That said, it's not without its faults. Some aspects are painfully episodic; son Ted's (Christopher Castile) problem with bullies at school feels more like something out of a preachy kids' TV series, and older daughter Ryce's (Nicholle Tom) teenage romance is given far too short shrift to become anything of worth to the film. The brief running time of just under an hour and a half also means that the film's main plot - an immoral vet stealing pets to make money out of animal testing - doesn't quite get the screen time to be fleshed out thoroughly. But it also means that the film never manages to outstay its welcome. Beethoven manages to entertain earnestly and swiftly, something that many more recent entries into the family market cannot manage.


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