whogetsthedogcoverGrade: C-
Entire family: Yes
2016, 95 min., Color
20th Century Fox
Rated PG for language and a brief drug reference
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: n/a
Amazon link

Australian actor Ryan Kwanten stars opposite Alicia Silverstone in Who Gets the Dog?—a cute-premise film whose writing and scenic construction never rise to that same level of cuteness. In fact, this formulaic, straight-as-the-crow-flies romantic comedy can feel plodding and downright dull at times, perhaps because we’re never given any scenes that explain what attracted Chicago Wolves hockey goalie Clay Lonnergan (Kwanten) and doctor Olive Greene (Silverstone) to each other in the first place, and what, specifically, drove them to the divorce that’s announced in the very first scene.

whogetsthedogscreen1All we’re told is that Olive is tired of waiting (wait for it) . . . for Clay to “grow up.” Yet he doesn’t engage in any irresponsible behavior. In fact, if they had to go to trial for their divorce rather than for who gets custody of their white lab, then Exhibit A might be that he dresses sloppily, lives sloppily and can’t cook. But that’s not the clichéd Peter Pan syndrome. That’s just an informal guy who also still likes hanging out with the guys, and why wouldn’t he? Clay makes his living as a professional athlete, where guy bonding is crucial to success. What we see in him is a hard-working goalie who wants to make it to the next level of professional hockey. And he works with kids too. What’s not grown up about that?

Consider it one example of facile writing, and a logical problem that’s matched by some head-snapping others in the film. Set in Chicago during a typical Chicago winter, Who Gets the Dog? features some great shots of the city, but it does make you take notice when truck tires screech and “burn rubber” in snow and slosh, just as later when Clay is living by himself and burning muffins so badly that the RV fills with smoke, and  he removes the tray with an oven mitt but then seconds later barehands it, no problem. You tend to notice things like that when there isn’t much else to divert you. A side plot featuring dog whisperer Glen Hannon (Randall Batinkoff) trying to date Olive isn’t developed nearly enough, and neither is a side plot involving youth hockey—which, let me say, seems like another hard-to-believe scene. We’re talking about players older than age 10 and they’re falling down on the ice after a face-off as if they were five and six year olds.

whogetsthedogscreen2But the biggest problem is that there’s not nearly enough exposition to make you care about the characters or really want them to get back together again. You care more about the dog, and maybe that’s the point. We see Clay working out and talking with a friend, and we see him involved with youth hockey. But we really don’t see much of Olive’s life apart from the main plot, and even that main plot revolves around such goofy things as seeing a doggie counselor together or dealing with site visits from court-appointed authorities.

Silverstone and Kwanten are likable enough, but they don’t have the chemistry between them to explain the happy ending that the film offers, and dog lovers can’t help but think that the one Timmy’s-in-the-well moment also could have been stronger, and that the dog actually could have been featured more. Who Gets the Dog? feels like the kind of made-for-TV movie you’d see on the Hallmark Channel, which seems to crank out dog movies and Christmas movies because people like them. But it’s a film that never rises to the level of cuteness promised by its premise. Whole families can watch Who Gets the Dog? and it’s simple enough for even the youngest children to follow. But there are better options out there.