Eric's Bad Movies: 'Karate Dog' (2004)

When parodying bad movies, no intentionally terrible idea is so absurd that there does not already exist a real movie that is worse. I had known this in my heart for a long time, but it was only recently that it crystallized in my conscious mind. As with many great epiphanies, it was sparked by a movie about a talking dog.

I was about to watch a film called "Karate Dog." Or maybe "The Karate Dog." The DVD cover and menu say one thing; the onscreen title says another. "(The) Karate Dog" stars former model and MTV veejay Simon Rex as a police officer, with Chevy Chase as the voice of the martial-arts-trained dog who assists him in solving a murder. Contemplating that I was about to watch this movie (and not just watch it but take notes on it), I realized that if I conceived a list of fake one-sentence summaries to satirize the dumb stuff that comes out of Hollywood, none of them would be any dumber than this actual one-sentence summary of an actual movie. The line between reality and parody is indistinguishable. Mankind's capacity for stupidity is even greater than its capacity to make fun of stupidity.

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Anyway, Simon Rex. He plays a cop. I shouldn't even know who Simon Rex is, let alone have to believe him as a cop. (Never mind the dog. How'd they teach Simon Rex to talk?) If you're unfamiliar with Rex, he started out doing porn in the '90s before debasing himself even further by becoming an MTV host. After this he moved on to the customary obscurity and desperation specified by MTV's performer contracts, then became an actor, then became whatever it is that a person is when they star in "Karate Dog."

He plays Det. Peter Fowler, a tech-savvy investigator and a bit of a geek who is one of the cops at the scene when a kindly old gentleman named Chin Li is found murdered. We saw the whole thing go down: Chin Li -- played by Pat Morita, cursing the day he signed a contract obligating him to appear in any film with "Karate" in the title -- was ambushed in his apartment by a squad of masked ninjas, who wanted a canister of green fluid he had in his possession. The only witness to the crime was Chin Li's dog, Cho-Cho, who, as luck would have it, can talk. (Don't get too excited, though. He has the voice of Chevy Chase, and it's post-1985, so the odds he'll say anything funny are slim.)

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Now, about the talking. Before the ninjas attacked, Chin Li reminded Cho-Cho that he shouldn't go around talking to just anyone, but to "speak only to one who seeks the truth." Why? Dunno. How did Cho-Cho learn to speak at all? Also dunno. We are told, however, that Chin Li is the one who taught Cho-Cho karate. Thank goodness THAT was cleared up! I'd have had a hard time accepting a movie about a dog that knew karate just because.

Do you suppose it was Cho-Cho's ability to talk that made Chin Li think he'd also be able to learn karate? Or do you think it was studying karate that gave Cho-Cho the discipline necessary to learn to talk? These questions probably would have been addressed in the "Karate Dog" sequel, except that the sequel was never made because -- and you might remember when this happened -- the U.S. Constitution was amended to specifically forbid it.

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But back to the story at hand. Recognizing that Peter is one who seeks the truth, Cho-Cho follows him home and talks to him, in a painful scene requiring Simon Rex to convey the complicated actor emotions of "astonished" and "freaking out." Peter and Cho-Cho have some "Odd Couple" banter -- for some reason Cho-Cho also occasionally walks on his hind legs, wears Peter's bathrobe, and uses Peter's toothbrush -- and then Peter takes the dog to the police station. Cho-Cho refuses to speak to the other cops, and now they think Peter is crazy. It's like that old cartoon where the frog will only sing and dance for one guy, but less realistic.

Why won't Cho-Cho talk to the other cops? Aren't they also seeking the truth? Don't they want to find Chin Li's killers the same as Peter does? Yes. Cho-Cho has a conversation with Peter that ends with Peter understanding why Cho-Cho will only talk to him, but in this case Peter is better at understanding things than I am because I still don't have any idea.

At this point we are introduced to the villain of the piece, a wealthy biotech industrialist named Hamilton Cage, played by former actor and noted Jolie-spawner Jon Voight. Hamilton Cage speaks in a Southern gentleman drawl, like Foghorn Leghorn. He and Cho-Cho were both karate students under the tutelage of Chin Li, who worked for the Cage Corporation in some unspecified capacity. Cage has been developing a food additive that makes greyhounds run faster, helping him win bets at dog races: steroids for dogs. He intends to test it on humans, too. This is the stuff that was in the canister the ninjas took from Chin Li. The old man had stumbled across it and was going to expose Cage's crimes, so Cage had him whacked, etc.

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This is the "mystery" that Cho-Cho and Peter have to solve. It won't take very long, obviously, so there is plenty of time for tangents involving wacky shenanigans and crazy mix-em-ups and all the usual monkeyshines you expect from an 84-minute children's movie made by people who didn't care and perhaps actually hated children. The tomfoolery includes such incidents as these:

- Peter goes on a date with a lady cop played by Jaime Pressly. Fearing he will be nervous and tongue-tied, he arranges to have Cho-Cho the dog hide in the bushes outside the restaurant and tell him what to say through a tiny earpiece. When a cat passes by and Cho-Cho makes angry remarks about how much he hates cats, Peter dutifully repeats these words to his date. You might wonder how someone as stupid as Peter can even dress himself in the morning, but remember, this is a movie about a talking dog.

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- Cho-Cho and Peter are about to get in Peter's car when Cho-Cho sees a man who he thinks might have been one of the ninjas who killed Chin Li. Cho-Cho grabs the keys out of Peter's hand, starts the car, and speeds off in hot pursuit. He is not a very good driver, though, and the car crashes into a pond. You might wonder how a dog could reach the gas pedal, but remember, this is a movie where someone as stupid as Peter is able to dress himself in the morning.

I should mention that so far, the only time we've seen Cho-Cho the Karate Dog do any karate is in the opening scene, when he fought the ninjas. (And lost.) I don't know, I just figured a movie called "Karate Dog" would have more karate in it, and that the karate it contained would be more heroic than a dog kicking some guys who escape anyway. I also think calling the movie "Karate Dog" is burying the lead, since the dog in question also speaks, drives, walks upright, and helps guys score with chicks. Karate is actually the least of his skills.

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At any rate, all of this Hitchcock-level intrigue and Chaplin-level comedy eventually culminates in a climactic rooftop battle between karate masters Cho-Cho and Hamilton Cage. At long last: karate. Since it is notoriously difficult to train real dogs to do karate, the filmmakers were forced to use computer animation. But since realistic computer animation is notoriously expensive, the filmmakers were forced to use something from the local high school's remedial art class, the one they send the ADHD kids to. (The filmmakers also used a stuntman who looked nothing like Jon Voight, but I believe that was out of sheer contempt for the audience.) Cho-Cho and Cage do a lot of slow-motion "Matrix"-type fighting that looks even worse than you are imagining it looking. Cage is vanquished, Chin Li is avenged, and Peter, who didn't do anything, gets a medal from the mayor, which he gives to Cho-Cho, who doesn't get any official recognition because he's just a stupid dog.

P.S. "Karate Dog" was directed by Bob Clark, whose work on the beloved "A Christmas Story" was sadly outweighed by his work on not one but two "Baby Geniuses" movies, not to mention "Karate Dog," which indeed we will never mention again.

P.P.S. In case you doubted that this imbecilic, unendurable experience could get any worse, Randy Travis sings a songs over the closing credits. Now blood is spurting from your ears AND eyes!