The Karate Dog (Review)

The Karate Dog

Jon Voight as Hamilton Cage
Simon Rex as Det. Peter Fowler
Pat Morita as Chin Li
Chevy Chase as Cho-Cho (voice)
Jaime Pressly as Ashley Wilkens
Nicollette Sheridan as White Cat (voice)
Directed by Bob Clark

Premiering on ABC Family of all places, the movie Karate Dog suffers from many flaws, but is altogether not a complete failure. There are a few moments of glory that shine like specks of gold in the sewer system stream that is the rest of this film. Right off the bat, in a movie called The Karate Dog, flaw number one is the Karate Dog, or Cho-Cho as he is called in the film. Cho-Cho is voiced by Chevy Chase, who seemed to phone in a majority of the readings, but in certain places it sounds like he got away with ad libbing and putting some effort into improving the script. The times that it sounds like Chevy is going off script are usually used during movement scenes so Cho-Cho isn’t even bothered to be animated, and those quips are generally more funny than the standard tired jokes that get passed around in this film. This was probably allowed because Cho-Cho constantly making quips while walking away from the camera not only helps in the ad libbing, but allows for cheap additions, as the dog doesn’t need more animation for his waggling jaw. Director Bob Clark is known for such wonderful films such as A Christmas Story and Porky’s, but more recently has been helming the Baby Geniuses franchise. The roller-coaster ride that is Bob Clark’s life seems to be jammed at the bottom of the hill. Karate Dog also features Pat Morita as basically his Mr. Miyagi character, as well as former gay porn star Simon Rex and his then-girlfriend Jaime Pressly as police officers who date in film. Finally, the villain is played by Angelina Jolie’s dad, Jon Voight, who continues to make bizarre career choices, but is a highlight of this film toward the end as he goes crazy. If all of this doesn’t make you salivate with desire, then you’re just like most people. Luckily, some days simply nothing else is on TV, and as far as new TV movies go, this would beat The Cheetah Girls Movie or Lifetime’s latest movie where a woman is mistreated by her husband.

Pat Morita is Mr. Miyagi, I mean Chin Li, who steals a tube of mysterious green goo from a top secret laboratory. He takes it back to his house, deep in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown (which means it should be an apartment with 10 other people living there to be realistic, but I digress) and hides it. Chin Li’s dog is named Cho-Cho, and Cho-Cho can speak, and I don’t mean “arf!” With a vocabulary that’s higher than most high schoolers. Chin Li takes time to look at an old picture of him and his favorite student, Hamilton, who is Jon Voight. Someone breaks into the house, actually several someones, all masked men. Chin Li goes to investigate, the leader of the masked men is an Evil Mime, who demands the green goo stolen in the beginning of the film. Pat Morita goes all Karate Kid on them, like they were skeleton-costumed teenagers. Unfortunately for Chin Li, the Evil Mime goes all spin-kicky and knocks Chin Li around. Cho-Cho bursts in and suddenly he’s in a karate stance, and he karatecizes all the masked men. Thanks to the magic of CGI, Karate Dog is able to fight the attackers without clever editing. The Evil Mime grabs the goo, but Cho-Cho bites his hand in the act. Evil Mime escapes while Cho-Cho attends to his dying master Pat Morita, even dialing 911. We get all sad as Pat Morita passes on.

Cops are swarming all over the joint the next morning, when Detective Peter Fowler arrives. Played by Simon Rex, who did gay porn before breaking into mainstream films (sort of an opposite of former Power Ranger Austin St. John, who is rumored to now be doing gay porn himself!), Detective Fowler is a computer expert who has created a talking computer to help solve crimes. Called COLAR and voiced by Lori Petty, COLAR joins the ranks of annoying talking mechanical devices that invest B movies like rats in a sewer. Rookie cop Ashley Wilkens (Jaime Pressly) remembers Fowler teaching her Intro to Computers class and is amused by his creation, while the rest of the seasoned cops just poke fun. Cho-Cho is still by the body, but Animal Control comes in to do a TLG job – Tag ’em, Log ’em, and Gas ’em, but Cho-Cho escapes and hides in Fowler’s car, which just happens to be an expensive convertible. Fowler must be a former dotcommer who got a job on the police force after the crash. Fowler leaves, yet then drives INTO Chinatown on his exiting Chinatown, probably as Director Bob Clark wanted a shot of the car passing through the SF Chinatown Gate. Fowler ends up in what looks like Fisherman’s Wharf area, where his apartment is, Fowler seems to be renting an loft and the adjoining garage area below it. Fowler also has multiple parking spots for his one car, he should be making some extra cash by renting the other one out. Fowler’s apartment would go for close to $1500-$2000 a month, maybe even higher. This reinforces my former dotcommer theory.

That night at Fowler’s, Cho-Cho tells Fowler that the current theory of a robbery gone wrong was incorrect. Fowler at first thinks he has an intruder, but then sees Cho-Cho talking with his own eyes. Fowler understandably freaks out, but Cho-Cho keeps talking. Why Cho-Cho would break such a secret of his talking dogness so easily isn’t explained adequately. Cho-Cho either has some sort of Sixth Sense that can detect whether Fowler is a good choice to confide in, or Cho-Cho is just stupid. Cho-Cho reveals it was professional assassins who went after Chin Li. Later, Cho-Cho explains that he can talk because Chin Li willed it. All dogs can talk, but only in dog language, not English. Why Chinese Chun Li played by Japanese Pat Morita would will Chin Li to talk in English isn’t brought up, either. Cho-Cho also walks around on his hind legs, but that freaks out Fowler worst of all. Fowler agrees to help only if Cho-Cho will walk on four feet. What a slave-master! Doesn’t he know it’s oppressive to force the dog to walk on all fours, like a common animal? Cho-Cho will always be subservient to the two-leggers as long as this four-leg discrimination happens! Somebody call PeTA! No, wait, don’t call PeTA, those guys are crazy.

Next morning, Cho-Cho is making bad poop jokes (ugh!) and brushing his teeth (not quite as bad) and wearing underwear. The poop jokes seem slammed in for the toilet humor needed for cheap laughs, but instead fall flat and are more embarrassing than anything else. At least the dog had some decency and covered his shame with the underpants, nothing I dislike more than shameful animal nakedness. Running around with no clothes on, have they no shame? Fowler takes Cho-Cho to work with him, which somehow involves him driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, despite living already in San Francisco and working for the SFPD. Maybe he makes a quick run to Sausalito in the morning to grab some cookies before work, and expensive habit as it’s $5 to cross the bridge back into town. Fowler takes Cho-Cho inside the Police Station, and tries to get Cho-Cho to talk for his fellow officers, who think Fowler is losing it when Cho-Cho just stares back. Later, Cho-Cho explains he will only talk for Fowler, like we all knew would happen. Then, the dog is seen using the urinal! Isn’t that wacky, a dog peeing? It’s so wacky, man! Cho-Cho vows that if they solve the case he will sing a love song to a cat in front of the entire police squad. Fowler manages to fumble his way through some flirting with Officer Ashley Wilkens, and then it’s off to the greyhound tracks to speak with Chin Li’s good friend, Hamilton Cage (Jon Voight).

Jon Voight as Hamilton Cage is one of the bright spots of the film, as mentioned before. Hamilton is an old millionaire businessman, who was a former martial arts student that worked with Chin Li years ago. Orphaned as a baby, he was raised and educated in the Far East. Hamilton and his wife run CAGE Industries, while his son Edward is an overweight bouncer-type, and his daughter Margaret is also around. Hamilton is also big into greyhound racing, raising and training dogs for the local track. Fowler talks to him, as Cho-Cho does some dong on dog interrogation down below, even though Cho-Cho is convinced that greyhounds are “nothing but puppets of the man!” Son Edward was the last to see Chin Li alive, as Chin Li worked for Hamilton feeding the greyhounds, but nothing suspicious happened. Hamilton knows that Cho-Cho is special, for his friend Chin Li mentioned him often. The dogs tell Cho-Cho that a new feed has been introduced, one that causes greyhounds to win, but the latest one has gone nutso, barking at everyone and not even able to speak dog. As the two prepare to leave, Cho-Cho sees a cat, and undergoes “Feline Fury” in which he must destroy the cat. Relax, as he never even gets close enough to the cat to do any damage, and this is a kid’s film! Cho-Cho rants that cats were behind plagues, World War 2, and the JFK assassination.

Cho-Cho also sees a bandaged hand out of a car window, the same hand that Cho-Cho bit during the battle. He can’t see the face of the hand’s owner. Cho-Cho hops into the driver’s seat of Fowler’s car and takes off after the assassin, who is driving away, following him. Fowler screams as his car goes out of control, Cho-Cho having forgotten he doesn’t know how to drive! D’oh! I hate it when that happens. Luckily, I tattoo on my arms things such as “You know how to drive” and “You don’t know how to dismantle an atomic bomb.” That last one came in handy once. Cho-Cho manages to drive the car into a lake, which makes him about as good a dog driver as the driving dog from the commercial, who also drove into a lake. But this is completely different, because this dog can talk!

Fowler bumps into Ashley later, and Cho-Cho asks her out on a date, impersonating Fowler’s voice when she isn’t looking. This manages to work, due to the simplistic nature of the script. The Cyrano de Bergerac segment is as foreseeable as Matlock solving the case or Dirty Harry being taken off the case. First, we get a cut scene of Hamilton telling his son to stop fixing greyhound races for a while until the heat is off. Then the son sasses the dad, but only after Hamilton has left. Now, the date is at the Amazon Restaurant, which is in a giant mansion on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, something that couldn’t be within 20 miles of San Francisco. Though that might be a long drive, it could theoretically get you a seat faster than some of the downtown posh restaurants. Plus, if it’s the Bay Area, shouldn’t it be the Restaurant? Cho-Cho gives Fowler lines to say via earpiece and microphone, just as we all predicted long ago. Everything is going swimmingly until a cat wanders by, and Cho-Cho goes on an anti-cat rant. Fowler repeats, being a moron and we needed some comic relief. Most of us in the audience are still needed it. Cho-Cho then checks out a passing girl dog (there is a lot of loose animals out here in the ranch/expensive restaurant) and says “Check out the chassis on that Lassie!” Fowler accidentally calls Ashley a dog, which ends the date. How Fowler puts on his pants in the morning is not explored, but if he requires crib notes and diagrams for that I wouldn’t be surprised. Fowler has to chase after her and apologize. Cho-Cho is on a date with the other dog, doing human things such as see-saws. Because he’s a talking dog! Ha! It’s funny! Laugh! See-saw!

Fowler heads home, with Ashley (I guess that was some apology!), and hears the sounds of a party. Cho-Cho is hosting a doggy kegger! Now we can have all sorts of dog jokes! Dogs playing poker! Dogs in a conga line! Dogs in a hot tub! We got a Chihuahua floating from a balloon, talking with a Mexican accent! TV’s Wishbone seems to be the DJ, scratching records. I guess PBS was holding him back. Fowler spoils the rottweiler in the hot tub’s chance to score with some poodles (please, they’re probably humping in the parking lot, the playground, and my front lawn! GET OFF MY LAWN! That’s it, I’m getting the garden hose!) Ashley was sent away before he went up, so don’t worry about that. Fowler uses COLAR to find out that several of the dogs feed the special dog food were winning dogs owned by Hamilton. We also get what may be a reference to the Bingo movie, either obscure or just misunderstood by me. The two decide to break into CAGE Industries and get information on their biotech labs. Now, this evidence wouldn’t be admissible in a court of law, but let’s ignore that for now. Because we wouldn’t get our Mission Impossible reference!

They sneak inside, then put Cho-Cho in the ventilation shaft, preparing to lower him down to access the computer. For some reason Hamilton has the same security for the room as from the MI movie, which also means his paranoia is justified as someone is breaking in and taking special precaution to get to his data. Cho-Cho downloads the information (poor doggy having to be lowered from the ceiling!) when Hamilton enters the room to tell his family he is introducing a new wonder drug, and that he’s been taking it for a while now. It’s called LOT99, and is the drug the greyhounds were getting fed, which Hamilton promises is eternal youth. Cho-Cho notices the hand that was bitten in the audience, this time also seeing the body it belongs to, one of Hamilton’s men, Wolfgang, a bald kung fu man. There is a sad ride home as Cho-Cho realizes the former friend Hamilton has gone sour.

Hamilton has started to go batty. Voight does a good job as someone slowly becoming unhinged, and that night he breaks into the greyhound area, and races the dogs. He beats the greyhounds. Fowler takes the stolen data to his chief to explain what Hamilton is doing, but instead of seeing the stolen data, they just see a computer animation that warns them that all their computers will explode. All the computers in the police station then explode. Dell shouldn’t soak their monitors in gasoline and make their screens out of C4. Fowler is yelled at again, and is considered a bigger failure than already thought to be. Fowler needs to break into the lab again, and Ashley says she’ll help him. Hamilton drinks some more LOT99, and begins dancing around wackily. He’s no talking dog using the urinal, I tell you what! Actually, he’s much better. Cho-Cho goes to talk to the greyhounds at the compound again; the old greyhound he is talking to turns out to have been a young, fast runner earlier in the movie. The LOT99 uses up the dogs, making them crazy and old. Hamilton catches the intruders, and calls the police, who arrest Fowler and Cho-Cho. Ashley isn’t arrested, as she was captured by Wolfgang. Fowler is forced to give up his badge and gun (he can’t give up his gun because his mom has it.) The Animal Control Officer who likes gassing dogs gets a hold of Cho-Cho. I find it hard to believe that in San Francisco of all places, there is a crazed animal gasser who will kill any pet he gets his hands on, regardless of sanity or having an owner. The city would be sued into bankruptcy, plus he’d be attacked by crazed animal rights activists. Cho-Cho meets a cat in the Animal Control Center, voiced by Nicollette Sheridan.

“Dead dog walking!” Get it? It’s like the movie, only with a dog! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA!


Fowly rescues Cho-Cho, and sics a dog named Hannibal on the Animal Control Officer. Hannibal is a giant Spuds MacKenzie-type dog, and we can only assume that a butt was bitten and a leg was humped. Ashley manages to untie herself, and fights Wolfgang in a kung fu battle, in which she wins. Sure, of course she’s a master at physical combat, didn’t you know? We also see that Wolfgang’s hand wound is only a burn mark, NOT the dog bite. Who could the real killer be? Guess. Go on, guess. I bet I know who you picked. Chin Li! He faked his own death, in a diabolical plot to kill Cho-Cho! No, wait, that would be to surprising of an ending. Instead, we get the obvious. At a press conference, Hamilton is all set to introduce LOT99-7, (Mission to Moscow), which will be the most improved version yet, making you crazy in record time. Hamilton has moved to having face splotches, and he acts forgetful while simultaneously jumping around like a maniac. Dogs invade Hamilton’s press conference, disrupting the press and allowing us to see dogs running around being dogs. These are the dogs that were in animal control, see, so it all makes sense. Hamilton managed to escape, but cat Nicollette Sheridan tells Cho-Cho where he ran off to. Cho-Cho seems to be getting over his Feline Fury. Hamilton Cage is outside, and now he and Cho-Cho must have their final battle. Kung Fu Matrix Style. With gravy. We get lots of slow-motion action, as bullet-time is used many years too late to be an original parody. Of course, it was sitting on a shelf for two years, so it was only partially spoiled rotten by 2004. No, I take it back, it was years too late then as well. Cho-Cho dodges at things are thrown at him, including tricycles and the kitchen sink (get it? Hamilton is saying that Cho-Cho should be riding a tricycle! No, wait…) The two do some big leaps and jump around, beating each other up. Cho-Cho does the Super Lick maneuver, and Hamilton manages to accidentally electrocute himself, thus saving the movie from having to have Cho-Cho kill Hamilton. At least he doesn’t die by falling, which is the ultimate cliché. So bonus points there.

Afterwards, the clichés return, as Hamilton’s son Edward pulls a gun and shoots at Fowler, but Cho-Cho takes the bullet. No bullet stopped by his collar here, Cho-Cho is hit. We don’t get a Turner and Hooch-style ending, as when Fowler is getting a medal at the end, Cho-Cho shows up at the ceremony, having healed from his wound. Fowler puts the medal on the dog as the audience claps. Then, a band made up entirely of dogs plays the song Chantilly Lace and Cho-Cho sings his love song to a cat, the Nicollette Sheridan cat. Everyone is surprised (duh!) and then Fowler kisses the girl. The human girl, Ashley, not the cat. The dog band is called The Puppies, by the way. Check them out on MySpace. No, wait, never go to MySpace, ever.

Bob Clark should be doing better, but a series of terrible films has relegated him to the level of TV movie director. Soon he’ll be making Lifetime movies if he doesn’t improve his act. Or at least get some better scripts. The film itself is a mess, with a few good points that are dragged down by the clichés and wasted opportunities. Many of the bad puns and parodies can be forgiven, due to the amount of time the film spent until it was released (two years on the shelf) and the fact it is a children’s film. The problem was it didn’t seem to be entirely a children’s film, the original script was either much more serious or much more childish, and was then moved toward the middle. It’s as if two different versions of the film were made simultaneously, but it’s like the combination of peanut butter and hair instead of peanut butter and chocolate. They didn’t hit the ball out of the park, it was a foul tip the catcher caught to end the inning with bases loaded. Jon Voight’s career ride is continuing to go into places unknown, but he deserves to be making quality stuff, or at least upper B-grade films. Chevy Chase was funny once, but now seems limited to doing cameos and menial work in unfunny films. I blame his short-lived TV show for killing him inside.

Hey, what if we had take the Spiderman upside down kiss scene, and then do it with dogs? That would make a good movie! Not really, but expect it in five years, especially if this gets a sequel (Baby Geniuses managed, and this one didn’t have a box office run to lose money at!) Whatever happens, we will be there, as always, to fight the pain. We can’t have Karate Dogs telling us what to do, and who to bark at!

Rated 4/10 (Old photo, Goo in a Tube, Mysterious trip on the Golden Gate Bridge, Mysterious return to Chinatown)

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