“Dog movies” will always have a place on family video shelves, a matter proven by the fact that we’re already four films deep in the Beethoven franchise, and reconfirmed by the existence of Frank, a genial family flick about reconnection as facilitated by a big, slobbering pooch.
Directed by Douglas Cheney — who presumably isn’t listed in the phone book as D. Cheney, or else he would have had to field some crank calls — Frank follows the story of a mangy mutt and how he brings a troubled family closer together. When the York clan, headed by Colin (Jon Gries, aka Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite) and Jennifer (Cynthia Watros), retreat to their summer cabin, they hope the idyllic lakeside setting will wash away their petty squabbles and day-to-day worries. But before the coals on the first campfire are cool, their world is turned upside down when 9-year-old Patrick (Ashton Dierks) stumbles upon the creature “terrorizing” the locals — a big, drooling, lovable bull mastiff that comes to be known as Frank. Much to the initial dismay of their dad, whose lunches and fix-it projects suffer mightily courtesy of his paws and drool, Frank reminds both rambunctious Patrick and teenage daughter Anna (Brittany Robertson) that family vacations are about being together and loving one another. Colin comes around in the end, and Jennifer rekindles her love of drawing — something she put on hold to have a family.
Written by Robin Bradford, Frank is aimed chiefly at kids, and for that less demanding subset it works OK as a piece of entertainment. It isn’t purely slapstick-y, but the musical selections and framing are all canted to their predetermined likes, and whittled down so as to accommodate their points-of-view. The acting is for the most part so-so, with Robertson proving the real find of the film. Newcomer Dierks is no Spencer Breslin, that’s for sure, and he doesn’t even really successfully emulate the kiddie actor that he’s clearly been most coached to impersonate — Jonathan Lipnicki, of Jerry Maguire (and, later, The Little Vampire). Not fair to bag on a kid actor? Maybe, but if you’re trying to match human-cute with dog-cute, you need someone a bit more pliable, to set up the pity the story looks to plumb. That said, the production value here is fairly nice, and the wonderful, in-the-round setting gives the movie a warm, lived-in feeling that separates it from a lot of straight-to-video product.
Frank comes in a regular Amray case, presented in 16×9 widescreen, with an English language 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound audio track, and optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. As for supplemental extras, there are seven minutes of deleted scenes, presented in time-coded fashion. There’s also a five-minute featurette on Littlebrook Farm, where the movie was shot. The bit is produced a bit like a salad dressing commercial, but property owners Deneise (yeah, that’s how she spells it) and Paul Hastings talk warmly about their connection to the home and land (the log cabin in the movie was built by Deneise’s grandfather), and come across as earnest, decent folk. Wrapping things up are previews for other First Look Studios releases and Summer in Siberia’s three-minute, flash-laden music video “Starving for Salmon,” produced for the movie and featuring lots of integrated clips of its cast and crew. To purchase the movie on DVD via Amazon, click here. C+ (Movie) C+ (Disc)