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PING!

Sometimes the best examples of cinema gone wrong can be found in the children’s section of your local video store, since the multitude of toxic waste which passes for entertainment there can provide hours of sadistic entertainment. So when I spotted the movie PING! amidst the SpongeBob Squarepants DVDs and unsold copies of The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, I couldn’t resist shelling out the few bucks it took to get the smelly-looking tape in my collection.

Once again, the box art for a movie made an alarm go off in my head, as the imagery is just priceless. Try to imagine Clint Howard and Judge Reinhold (the two embarrassed actors featured today) being chased by a Chihuahua who’s riding a glider. The dog is even sporting tiny dog-sized goggles and an old-fashioned leather pilot’s hat! And the plot description on the back of the box only drew me in further, since someone made the laughable decision to write PING! every time the dog is mentioned.

“Buckle in for a hilarious ride as PING! puts all of his puppy power into saving his owner and her fortune from two bumbling crooks! Will PING! do just about anything to save the day—including hang glide? You bet!”

During this review I will not be referring to our canine lead in this odd manner, since I think it will save all of us a bit of much needed sanity. You might want to know that Canadian Home Video gave this movie a PG rating, and that the box goes on to describe the movie as “Babe meets Home Alone.” Hoo boy.

The film begins with Ping being chased by two nasty Rotweilers named Thor and Damien. It seems Ping trespassed on their turf, and now the little guy is going to pay. I’ll point out just for clarification that this is a live action movie, but unlike Babe the animals don’t so much talk as they allow their thoughts to be heard. Just think of this as being another installment of Look Who’s Talking Now, only without John Travolta mugging for the camera every three seconds.

During this exciting chase Ping comes upon a birthday party where a very creepy clown is trying to entertain a group of bored children. It’s a good thing the mother is close by to keep an eye on things, because this looks like the kind of clown who will lure you into the sewers with the statement, “They all float!”

As Ping and the Rotweilers scurry around the table of children, the worried mother grabs the birthday cake to get it out of harm’s way. My alarm went off again, since experience has taught me the rule of Cake Inevitability, which states that whenever a cake is onscreen in a children’s film, at some point a character will have their face smashed into the confection. Sure enough, the Rotweilers trip the mother, sending her flying smack dab into the dessert. Ah, you never let me down, do ya Cake Inevitability?

Ping manages to escape for a few moments as his pursuers turn their attention to the clown, wondering if the guy will taste like clown soup. We get a few seconds of this wacky twist in the plot, then get back to basics as the Rotweilers start going after Ping once more. Eventually a dog catcher nabs the two mutts and throws them in the back of his truck, so Ping decides to save the day.

As the snarling slab of a dogcatcher leans down to pick up Ping, another rule popped into my head, which states that bad people must have their crotches torn to shreds by animals. I think I’ll call that rule Yankee My Wankee just for the sake of title. Ping manages to set Thor and Damien free, and as the two run away they thank our hero for the assistance, promising to owe him one in the future.

But before Ping can celebrate, he’s swiped by the teeth-gnashing dogcatcher and taken to the pound, where we hear a series of dogs lamenting their situation. I was actually pretty surprised to discover that up until this point, nothing had struck me as being overtly terrible. Sure, the jokes were obvious, but at least stuff was happening on the screen. I could say less about Durango Kids, which featured one minute blocks of kids just walking down a path. But my doctor told me not to relive those memories, so let’s keep going with today’s feature.

This scene is actually kind of cute, in that one of the dogs is planning to escape through the air vents while another barks desperately to be released. The pens even have ankle-high graffiti sprayed on the walls, including phrases like, “Kats are losers!” How these dogs managed to get their hands on colored chalk and write this stuff without thumbs is beyond me, but I don’t question the rules of evolution.

Now our first important human character is introduced in the way of actress Shirley Jones, who I believe played the mother on the old TV show The Partridge Family. Walking up to the front desk of the pound, she waits impatiently for someone to arrive. Then, after putting on a pair of gigantic coke bottle glasses, she notices a sign that reads for her to ring the bell for service. Oh, those old people and their need to avoid corrective lenses.

Shirley (who will later be referred to as Grandma just as soon as we get to that point in the story) is brought to the back of the building where the dogs are kept. Here we see that Ping is being led away by that grumpy dogcatcher, who is now comically wearing a diaper over his crotch. I doubt anyone would be able to walk after an injury like that, but then again I’m no doctor. Of course, Shirley instantly takes a liking to Ping, saying he’d be the perfect kitty for her granddaughter. This will prove to be a running joke throughout the movie, as Ping gets mistaken for a variety of animals. Trust me, it doesn’t get a whole lot funnier over time.

Ping is placed in Grandma’s basket and is next seen speeding down the road in her car, proving once again that senior citizens have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to driving. Meanwhile, a young girl is walking down the street, clinging a pile of books to her arms. When one of her fellow peers shows up and starts badgering her with a series of questions, she gives him the cold shoulder. These kids today with their cold shoulders. When I was a kid…well that was a few years ago, so I don’t really have any perspective, so never mind.

The point of this little moment is to show us how the little girl doesn’t exactly have social skills. The boy who tries to strike up a conversation tells her that while everyone at school may think she’s stuck-up, he does not. Something inside my noggin’ has me thinking this girl will learn to become more friendly by the end of this picture (future self: Why by golly, she did!).

Grandma comes screeching down the street, and she waves at the young girl, who I can safely assume is her granddaughter. Personally, if I was walking home and my grandmother just drove past me without offering a ride, I would be insulted. Those old people and their snooty ways!

When the Grandmother pulls up to her swanky mansion, she finds a crowd of paparazzi ready to take her picture and ask her about a certain tax evasion. She declines to comment while trying to reach the front door, where two official looking individuals are waiting. They’re IRS agents, which, as you know, are some of the fiercest members of the government.

Suddenly the movie comes to a screeching halt as the adult characters drone on and on about taxes, missed payments, and whatnot. Why the heck anyone would think kids would find a tax subplot entertaining is beyond me, but it has very little bearing on the actual plot. All we learn is that Grandma has a million bucks stashed away in her home that she won’t let the IRS examine or whatever they do, so now she’s in danger of being taken to court.

The girl goes around the back of the house and turns on the TV to see her Grandmother being interviewed by the press. When Ping pops his head out of the basket, the female IRS agent goes berserk and screams, “A giant rat!” She then proceeds to pull a gun out and aim at Ping! Uh, do the agents of the IRS actually get firearms? And if so, wouldn’t they know to use them with a bit more caution? This woman comes off as being just a bit unstable, but her partner manages to calm her down.

Eventually the IRS agents and the press are dismissed by Grandma, who goes inside the house to see the girl, who we learn is named Haley. When the old bat presents the basket to Haley and says she has a present for her, the violin music starts up and we get dragged into a very Full House-ish scene. See, Haley’s parents died six months ago, and she’s very sad, boo hoo and all that jazz. Later on, during a scene exactly like this one, we’ll also learn they died in a plane crash. Hmm, when was this movie made? Ah, 2000, that makes sense. If it were made today it would have been a car crash or food poisoning or death by ferret juice ingestion.

Grandma comforts Haley and opens the basket to reveal Ping, with Haley’s reaction being to scream in a very forced, obviously fake way. She also thinks the dog is a rat, so she runs yelling up to her room with Ping in hot pursuit. “Aw, isn’t that sweet? They’re playing already!” Grandma coos (sound of musical instrument going, “Wah-wah-wahhhhh”).

Cue the entrance of Clint Howard and Judge Reinhold, who are watching the news report from before on a television in their scuzzy van. This is the nastiest scene in the entire movie, since the first shot has Clint wearing nothing but boxers and a beater undershirt. He’s a very horrifying person to behold, with his pasty, hairy legs arched so far up that I came dangerously close to seeing Little Howard. Judge isn’t holding up well either, looking bloated and borderline drunk. Neither of these actors is trying to come up with any sort of original character sketch here, but rather channeling the burglars from Home Alone. You know the drill: one is pathetically stupid, while the other is supposedly smarter and thus has the privilege of smacking his dumb partner around.

Judge’s character is Louie, while Clint’s is Stu, by the way. I guess someone forgot to type that much needed “e” on the end of Stu’s name, but I’m not going to gripe. Louie is grilling bacon on the engine of their van while Stu lays out the plan of how they’re going to break into Grandmother’s house and steal all of her dough. Louie says something dumb, which causes Stu to throw a wrench at him. The bacon goes toppling into the engine and gets sliced into a million pieces, all of which fly into Louie’s face. Then a gas pipe breaks, causing gasoline to spray on Louie to the point where it gets in his mouth. Disgusting to say the least, but I didn’t fully become nauseated until Louie hands Stu a plate of gasoline-drenched bacon bits that Clint Howard slurps down in one nasty gulp. God, you have no idea what a horrible image that was to behold!

Getting back to Ping, we see that the pooch is exploring his new home, including the expansive backyard. Suddenly the movie switches to a fantasy scene, where Ping pretends to be Rambo. Yep, he even has the red bandana and some ammo strapped to his body. This is one of a couple moments in the movie where Ping uses his imagination, leading me to think that another inspiration for it was the old PBS series Wishbone. Remember that show? It too had a dog that imagined itself as various character, albeit ones from classic literature. I smell a lawsuit…

In the middle of this fantasy, two cats attack Ping, leading the dog to come back to reality. The felines are Asian, as evidenced by their hilariously bad accents. “Oh, dah doggee get a wittle hert, eh?” Just try and conjure up the Confucius voice and you’ll have a good idea of how silly these cats sound. I wasn’t offended really, because honestly they just had me laughing the entire time. Who knew Asian cats would be such a hoot? Oddly enough, while the cats are set up to be Ping’s semi-antagonists, they don’t end up affecting the plot in any important way.

As the movie progressed, I discovered that I wasn’t having a horrible time like I did with a certain other film directed at kids. Sure, the jokes ran the gamut of obvious (Ping thinks that Haley should listen to Snoop Dog…heh) to just plain dumb (a sign that reads Frank’s Art Supplies is jostled so that the letters spell Rank Fart Supplies, har har), but the main thing here is that I wasn’t bored to tears. A few more characters are introduced along the way, including Lucretia, the Goth teen who is Haley’s babysitter while Grandma goes off to play sax in her jazz band (don’t ask), and Drac, Lucretia’s inhaler-breathing boyfriend. These two run off every five seconds to make out, and, once again, don’t have much bearing on the story.

The problem with PING! is that it is way too broad and jokey, relying on tired gags that only the smallest of children could find amusement within. I don’t mind the idea of hearing the animals’ thoughts, the addition of Hanna-Barbera sound effects for every little moment got on my nerves. Ping jumping results in the sound of a twanging spring, birds are heard chirping after people get hit on the head, etc. Also, I often wondered out loud how Ping did half of the stuff he did when it came time for the burglars to invade his home. For example, he somehow constructs a humongous trampoline out of brassieres, then goes on to hang glide like on the cover. How the heck did he put on goggles without thumbs?! I should probably stop thinking.

Like I said before, the whole tax evasion plot was beyond pointless, since only adults would understand and probably couldn’t care less. The agents themselves are the least interesting of the lot, with the female agent being played so broadly by the actress that it was like she was in an entirely different movie. Besides, are kids going to realize that these people are supposed to be bad guys? And in the end it turns out Grandma actually WAS hoarding all of her cash from the IRS, so what the heck was she whining about? Stop trying to cheat the system, lady! Talk about a dumb tangent…

But I will give a few points to the movie for having the guts to actually reference Home Alone, when Ping suggests watching that film during one scene. At least PING! admits it’s ripping off another franchise, but that doesn’t make the act any better. I would rather have seen a more original story without all of the crude fart jokes (most of which happen randomly and without reason) and violence. Ping arming himself with a spear gun just does not sit well with me, as it may give kids the wrong idea. And no, I’m not kidding about the spear gun.

Trust me, ladies and gents, you could do much worse than PING!, even if it is a half-baked rehash of about 20 other flicks. If you’re a Clint Howard enthusiast, you can catch him slumming here, and if you’re simply a fan of the Beverly Hills Cop series than it might be fun to see Reinhold at his worst. Oh, wait, on second thought, Clint’s slumming hit its peak during House of the Dead, but that movie is so God-awful that I wouldn’t wish it on my own tax evading Grandmother. Cheerio!

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