3 stars (out of four)
Once it figures out it's more drama than comedy, "Firehouse Dog" does the job. It begins unpromisingly. A carefully coiffed pooch named Rexxx (three X's) is apparently the most famous Hollywood dog since Rin Tin Tin and the headliner of "Jurassic Bark" and "The Fast and the Furriest." He's throwing a doggie hissy fit in his movie-set trailer because someone's overcoat reminds him of a dog he once loved. Performing an on-camera stunt, Rexxx leaps out of a plane but without his parachute. He lands, squish, in a truckful of tomatoes; presumed dead by a grieving nation, the unrecognizably scruffy animal is adopted by the sullen son of a single firefighter father.
The species doesn't matter: The snotty-Hollywood-airs-meet-real-life joke went out 16 years ago, around the time of "The Hard Way." When "Firehouse Dog" tries for satire, it doesn't get there. Eventually, though, the script wises up and settles down for a surprisingly heartfelt father/son relationship, handled with restraint by director Todd Holland.
The actors manage the kind of unforced sincerity rare in a kid-aimed picture. Josh Hutcherson and Bruce Greenwood look right together, and they're similar sorts of actors, decades apart: Clean, honest, direct. That's saying something, given how often "Firehouse Dog" sticks them with reaction shots, in which their mouths drop open, discreetly agape at the latest heroic canine feat.
Directed by Todd Holland; screenplay by Claire-Dee Lim, Mike Werb and Michael Colleary; photographed by Victor Hammer; edited by Scott James Wallace; music by Jeff Cardoni; production design by Tamara Deverell; produced by Colleary and Werb. A 20th Century Fox release; opens Wednesday. Running time: 1:51. MPAA rating: PG (for sequences of action peril, some mild crude humor and language).
Shane Fahey - Josh Hutcherson
Connor Fahey - Bruce Greenwood
Joe Musto - Bill Nunn
Trey Falcon - Dash Mihok