Here's what a movie called Hotel For Dogs has to have in order to live up to its title: a hotel, and dogs. Here's what it has to have in order to be a reasonably diverting film for kids: cute dogs, a brisk pace, a sweet tone, and some gags about poop. So far, so good. And now, the third hurdle: What does a film called Hotel For Dogs need in order to avoid being a watch-checker for grown-ups? Whatever it is, Hotel For Dogs doesn't have it.
It does, however, have dogs in abundance, thanks to a plot that finds stars Emma Roberts and Jake T. Austin taking in strays at an abandoned hotel. They no doubt see a bit of themselves in the dogs' plight. A pair of orphans passed from one unsatisfactory foster home to the next—as the film opens, they're suffering under the less-than-tender care of comically struggling musicians Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon—Roberts and Austin have struggled for years to hide and care for a family dog left behind after their parents' death. Their makeshift shelter gets some upgrades via Austin's flair for automated gadgetry, which lets them build dog-friendly toilets and an automatic feeding machine; they also get help from some friendly pet-shop employees. But their secret enterprise can only be sustained for a finite number of briskly edited frolicking sequences.
Director Thor Freudenthal guides kids and dogs through a backlot of adventure with the numbing competence familiar from the Disney Channel. Don Cheadle lends a little gravity as the kids' social worker, but there's no disguising fluff this fluffy. And for dog-fixated kids of a certain age, that's probably just fine. For the rest of us… What time is it?