The Karate Dog is one of those titles that one shouldn’t say without a smile, mostly because of the very insistent use of the article “the.” See, this ain’t Cop Dog or Ghost Cat: with a supporting performance from Pat Morita, that “the” is most definitely important.
Aaaaaaaand the movie features Jon Voight engaged in karate combat with a dog voiced by Chevy Chase that naked DWI country star Randy Travis wrote a song about.
You can’t tell me you’re not smiling.
Quick Plot: Cho Cho is a Briard that can speak to his owner, Chin Li, a karate master with a mysterious but incredibly powerful green goo. Before you can say wax on, a band of ninjas break into Chin Li’s home to steal said goo, fighting the old man in the process and leaving him to slowly die of a heart attack while Cho Cho watches on sadly.
You know the phrase “phoned-in performance?” I think it can be used quite literally here, as Chevy Chase most likely recorded his barely caring dog lines via AT & T. Moving on…
Cho Cho is determined to catch the men responsible for his pal’s death and thusly does he team up with Peter Fowler (former porn star/MTV veejay/‘90s trivia question Simon Rex), a technologically obsessed nerd of a detective who seems to have no understanding of the word ‘warrant.’ Fowler is stuck with a crush on a sweet and naturally single young beat cop (Jaime Pressly, and only now do I realize how oddly spelled her name is) and a boss growing tired of his antics. Even though he doesn’t actually have any antics. “Tired of hero’s antics” just seems to be a thing that occurs quite often here in Animals Doing Human Stuff Month.
Anyway, some sleuthing leads Cho Cho and Fowler to the greyhound racetrack of one Hamilton Cage, a gloriously hammed up Jon Voight who is villainously using Chin Li’s goo as a steroid for his dogs…and himself, much to the comic value of later seeing Jon Voight engaged in karate.
With a dog.
A creepy CGI dog.
When making a talking, driving, karate chopping dog movie, a filmmaker like Bob Black Christmas Clark has a few decisions to make. Among the most important: how to make titular dog talk, drive, head a conga line, use a urinal, and of course, karate chop. This being 2002, animatronics were already on their way out in favor of cheap ‘n dirty CGI. But the late (and quite often great) Clark was a classy guy and wouldn’t quite let go of some good old fashioned canine trained thespians and puppet work.
Thusly do we arrive at this karate dog with a mixture of occasional awwwwws (because it’s a cute enough well-trained dog) and gahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhs (because CGI dogs standing on two legs and acting like humans is incredibly disturbing). Some people don’t like to see Muppets in full frame…
I do not like to see CGI dogs on two legs dancing in conga lines.
Sadly once seen, the CGI dog conga line cannot be unseen, rendering The Karate Dog as scary an experience as Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things or Clark’s underrated gem, Deathdream. As if to further send younger viewers into immediate series of nightmares, The Karate Dog ends with Cho Cho performing Chantily Lace with a complete jazz band of other dogs, including a Dalmatian on bass. It just…ain’t. right.
I always considered myself an open-minded, liberal person. And yet hearing Chevy Chase’s lazy vocals come through the mouth of an awkwardly positioned Briard wearing a suit made me think “too far.” It’s as if Ally McBeal’s dancing baby fantasy finally found its canine counterpart, and it’s an awful, awful thing to behold.
There’s a wonderfully over-the-top, deep slow motioned voice “Noooooooooooooooooooooooo” shoutout by Jaime Pressly towards the film’s climax that I simply refuse to believe wasn’t placed there for hilarious, intentional comedy
When was the last time an actor playing a film’s title character didn’t get a credit? In a world of Mooses and Kumas, what a shame it is that the briard occasionally turned into a horrific CGI creation doesn’t get his own name listed in the part of Cho Cho
Talking like a human is like riding a bike
Every dog has his day...you know?
Just cause someone’s a dog doesn’t mean they can’t smell a rat
Early 21st century ninja villains were quite the fans of Momenshuntz
The voice of Lori “Kit Keller” scratching out the voice of Peter’s computer
And Hey! How About…
The fat guy from Varsity Blues as Hamilton’s son. Actor Ron Lester might very well have the saddest IMDB profile bio of anyone I’ve ever read: “Ron Lester gained celebrity status at an early stage in his career, but his draw in Hollywood seemed to be based on one physical characteristic - his weight. Obese since 5 years old, by the time he was 30 years old, Ron weighed 508 pounds. Hollywood hired him as the lovable fat kid but his health was in serious danger. With the support of his friends, family, and co-workers, Ron decided to go through an experimental (at the time) type of gastric bypass surgery that almost took his life. When he recovered from flat-lining on the operating table Ron began to lose the weight - and his celebrity identity. 348 pounds were lost in under two years and he's had 14 plastic surgeries to tighten and remove excess skin. Now Ron has a hard time getting the roles he once won. Admits food was his 'drug of choice' to cover up pain from often being the new kid in school (he changed schools often due to discipline problems), and the death of 22 close friends and family members throughout his life.”
Gee…well…um…dogs playing poker anyone?
And Wow! I can’t believe it’s…
The overused slide whistle from Ed making a cameo appearance to signify antics
Standard Animals Doing Stuff Trope Checklist
New Kid In Town: X
Recent Dead or Divorced Parent: Check (providing a karate master who feeds a dog qualifies)
Montage: X. I don’t want to talk about how disappointing that is
New Friendship: Check
Potentially Inappropriate ‘Friendship’ Between Child & Unrelated Adult (Human): X. I don’t think there is a single cast member under the age of 30
Evil Corporate Enemy: Check
Original Song: CHECK! Check INFINITY! Check AMAZING! Check Possibly Replacing the Song In Ozzie As My Wedding or Funeral or Wrestling Entrance music
Bully Comeuppance: X
Small Town Values: X
Back To Nature Moral: X
Overall Score: 3/10. Though Randy Travis’ lustrous vocals kind of add one thousand and one million points…
For all its ridiculousness, The Karate Dog isn’t quite as joyous as one would seem. Like all ADHS movies, there’s far too much human storyline that simply can’t compare to dogs playing poker, although when they DO play poker, they’re creepy CGI incarnations. That being said, The Karate Dog does have a lot of fun about it: Voight’s go-for-broke performance channels his Anaconda efforts, and the very fact that Randy “Naked DWI” Travis wrote a title song is the stuff made of greatness.