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By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 03, 1992


Brian Levant
Charles Grodin;
Bonnie Hunt;
Dean Jones;
Stanley Tucci;
David Duchovny
Parental guidance suggested

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"Beethoven" is a waggish tale of canine chicanery, an uproarious if impawsible symphony of drool, doggy fidelity and chewed shoes. The story of a Saint Bernard who takes over a suburban household, it would be perfect family fare but for one glaring exception -- the filmmakers' underlying mission is to villainize working mothers. In a strange sort of way, they have linked the child-care misadventures of "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" with the joys of dog ownership of "Turner & Hooch."

"Beethoven" is at its best when exploring the Hoochian qualities in the relationship between a tidy father of three (Charles Grodin) and the affable pooch (Beethoven) who teaches him to stop and smell the rose bushes. A fuzzy puppy who has escaped from a pair of daffy dognappers (Oliver Platt and Stanley Tucci), Beethoven tries Grodin's patience by digging up the houseplants, leaving muddy paw prints on his suit and slobbering like a car wash. And that's before he grows into a 185-pound shedding machine.

Of course, the children -- a shy teenage girl (Nicholle Tom), a skinny preadolescent boy (Christopher Castile) and their cute kid sister (Sarah Rose Karr) -- like Beethoven much better than they like Grodin. He's a workaholic who makes them get up early on Saturdays, a cinematic relative of Henry, the lawyer who became nice only after he was shot in the head. Dad, who is trying to expand his car air freshener business -- probably to pay for the kids' college tuition -- neglects his fatherly responsibilities, so the dog takes over.

When Grodin compels his wife and former business partner (Bonnie Hunt) to rejoin him at the office, Beethoven must become Ueber-parent. Portrayed as a devoted and doting mom, Hunt inexplicably leaves her kids in the care of the babysitter from "Honey, I Let the Kids Play in Traffic." On Hunt's first day on the job, their youngest child falls in the neglectful sitter's pool, where she is saved from drowning by the resourceful Beethoven. Not once does Hunt question the role her subconscious played in her choice in babysitters, but full of I-told-you-sos for her husband, she vows to return to the hearth.

Meanwhile a childless -- and therefore ruthless -- couple agrees to invest in the expansion of Grodin's business. The sneaky nonreproductives are out to absorb Grodin's company -- a plot that is foiled by Beethoven, who takes time out from helping the kids with their problems at school. Beethoven makes Lassie look like a shiftless no-account cur, yet Beethoven falls into the hands of the dimwitted dognappers, a pair no more apt to scare small-fry than the robbers in "Home Alone." They work for the villain (Dean Jones), a veterinarian who wants Beethoven for illegal animal research.

The hunted dogs are always a few steps ahead of the bad guys, but more sensitive youngsters might be frightened by their endangerment. At one point, Jones aims a gun at our four-legged hero.

Anyway, it's what little girls might read into "Beethoven" that's troubling. Indeed co-scripter Amy Jones, the author of "Mystic Pizza," must have done some heavy-duty Ken-L-rationalizing when it came to guilt-tripping working moms (after all, Jones works herself, doesn't she?). Still, the picture presents a real threat to feminism only if women heed its message. Perhaps the ticket is to sit back and enjoy all the doggie faux paws, then go home and recite "Backlash" to your daughters.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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