“K-9" (selected theaters) is a buddy movie with a difference: one of the guys is a dog. That’s just fine because James Belushi and his handsome co-star, a German shepherd named Jerry Lee (on screen and off), are as spiffy a team as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Jerry Lee, named for Mr. Lewis, is a real killer, too.
Cast as a member of the San Diego Police Department K-9 Corps, Jerry Lee can go for the throat (and other vulnerable parts of the body) if you’re one of the bad guys. At other times, Jerry Lee is the complete charmer, albeit always independent and unpredictable. He never cottons to the notion that Belushi’s Detective Tom Dooley is the senior partner of the team just because he is the human.
Actually, Jerry Lee is just what Dooley needs. Dooley is a headstrong, corner-cutting chance taker, the kind of cop forever in hot water and who has always resisted working with a partner. (You’ve met the type a million times before on the screen and on the tube; thankfully, Belushi is able to play Dooley deftly for laughs.) In helping the detective go after a drug kingpin (Kevin Tighe, gleefully nasty), Jerry Lee proves he is far more valuable to Dooley than for his ability to sniff out narcotics.
In Steven Siegel and Scott Myers’ serviceable rather than inspired script, the plot is standard, even stale cops-and-robbers fantasy, a throwaway device setting up the funny and touching relationship between Dooley and the German shepherd. Jerry Lee may be an exceptionally bright animal, but his trainer Karl Lewis Miller deserves much credit for making him seem so human. There is a warm, robust, good-natured quality to Belushi that makes his Detective Dooley easy to take. Mel Harris certainly is a good sport as Dooley’s rich, elegant lady who clearly adores Dooley for his love-making abilities rather than his intellect. (She was, Dooley recalls, reading Celine on the beach at La Jolla when he first noticed her.)
That the plot is never developed beyond the routine and that the jokes are not all thigh-slappers, although there are a few, keeps “K-9" (PG-13 for some violence and raunchiness) from being more than a minor effort. But as such, it’s enjoyable, thanks not only to its charismatic duo, but also to the skilled comedy direction of Rod Daniel, whose strong sense of pacing is enhanced by Miles Goodman’s driving but not overpowering score.