Funnyman Will Arnett gets upstaged by a streetwise canine in the amusing, featherweight family comedy "Show Dogs." Think "Best in Show" meets "Miss Congeniality" — but with talking animals.
When baby panda Ling Li is kidnapped (bear-napped?) by traffickers, FBI agent Frank (Arnett, in appealing leading-man mode) is paired with an imposing NYPD K-9 unit Rottweiler, Max (well-voiced by Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), to infiltrate a Las Vegas dog show, where Ling Li is to be sold.
But for full contest access, Max must pose as a competitor, with the irascible Rottie undergoing a show dog crash course courtesy of an ex-champion, Philippe (Stanley Tucci), and a human FBI special canine consultant (Natasha Lyonne).
Between Max's street smarts and some only-in-the-movies contrivances, nominal odd couple Frank and Max get a serious, er, leg up on their mission to rescue Ling Li.
The action, kept moving apace by director Raja Gosnell, includes an array of prize pooches (voiced by Jordin Sparks, Alan Cumming, RuPaul and others) doing — and saying — the darnedest CGI-rendered things, mild bits of mayhem and Vegas atmospherics.
It all plays out a bit randomly, but the leapfrogged plot points, thin characters and blunt messaging in Max Botkin and Marc Hyman's peppy script prove forgivable, given how this nicely modulated film largely avoids the hyper-aggressive jokiness and desperate stabs at relevance that often plague kidpics.
Rating: PG, for suggestive and rude humor, language and some action
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: In general release