So when I heard there was a new family film all about wiener dogs, I was on it like relish on a…well, you know…
Wiener Dog Nationals introduces us to the Jack family: unemployed widower Phil (Jason London) and his three children, teenager Skip (Austin Anderson) and kids Bridget (Caitlin Carmichael) and Danny (Julian Feder). When Danny adopts a wiener dog named Shelly for his birthday, he discovers Shelly’s got speed and enters her – unbeknownst to Phil – in the Wiener Dog Nationals, a real-life dachshund race sponsored by the Wienerschnitzel fast food chain. With the help of Wiener Dog Nationals employee Melanie (Alicia Witt), Shelly and the Jacks keep one step ahead of the scheming Ms. Merryweather (Morgan Fairchild), a filthy-rich debutante who’ll stop at nothing to see her wiener dog, Princess, win the big race.
For a film called Wiener Dog Nationals – about a wiener dog who enters a series of wiener dog races – the amount of screen time dedicated to wiener dogs is shockingly minimal. Ironically, Shelly is marginalized in her own film. In fact, there’s so much screen time dedicated to the Jack family’s internal strife and miscommunication, the film should’ve been called A Fractured Family – Oh, and They Have a Dog Too.
First-time feature director Kevan Peterson should have added establishing scenes of Shelly bonding with Danny and his family beyond the dog races (of which, there are only three in the entire film). How about the kids playing with the dog? Getting into wacky antics much to the dismay of their strict father? Even when Shelly turns on the hijinks, it’s all shown after the fact: ripped-up couch pillows here, a chewed-up newspaper there. Where’s the fun in that?
As the exasperated dad, London spends the entire film looking either perplexed or annoyed. Fairchild comes off as Cruella DeVil Lite as she schmoozes the race’s head judge (Mad Men’s Bryan Batt) when not resorting to espionage and blackmail (!) to get Shelly disqualified. And don’t get me started on the always-painful experience of watching extended scenes of marginally talented kid actors struggling to deliver dialogue to each other (see Opposite Day, Labou).
By the time the stakes are raised in Wiener Dog Nationals’ last act, it’s too little too late. Shelly’s screen time has been scant, simple questions are left unanswered, and it all ends with (spoiler alert!) a happy ending, but an underwhelming one that basically says, “Shelly didn’t win the big race, but thanks to two completely unrelated disqualifications, she’s the winner by default!” Um, yay?
Flat and forgettable, Wiener Dog Nationals’ ultimate flaw is simple: It has too much dialogue, and not enough dachshunds. Or, as my wife puts it, “Too many words, not enough wieners.”
Is it suitable for your kids?Wiener Dog Nationals is suitable for all ages. A few uses of “stupid” and “losers,” and Phil and Melanie make awkward advances toward each other, but that’s about it.
Bad: Your dog drinks your milk.
Worse: She's lactose intolerant.
Wiener Dog Nationals (2013)
* Director: Kevan Peterson
* Screenwriter: Gregory Gutierrez
* Stars: Alicia Witt, Jason London, Morgan Fairchild, Marque Richardson, Bryan Batt, Caitlin Carmichael, Chris Moss, Laura Ann Kesling, Austin Anderson, Julian Feder
* MPAA Rating: G
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