Rock Dog is better than even it thinks it is.
Significant plot points fall from the sky and character development and motivation are sorely lacking. But viewers learn early that this film is about the music, mate.
Bodi (Luke Wilson) is a Tibetan Mastiff tasked with helping to protect the sheep-le of his village, Snow Mountain. But all he wants to do is play music. His father, Khampa (J.K. Simmons), wants Bodi to concentrate, so he locks up musical instruments. He needs Bodi to get his Mastiff on, a power punch that in his father's hands can be lethal.
You see, there have been wolves at the door. And Bodi is sorely needed for a ruse his father has cooked up to keep them at bay.
But Bodi finds music anyway.
Or, rather, it finds him while he's out walking himself: A plane passing overhead drops some cargo that includes a radio (now, there's some serious deus ex machina). He twists the dial, lands on a rock 'n' roll station, trips out to this new sound and gets direction and validation from a radio interview with rock legend Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard).
"Play your guts out and never stop," advises Scattergood. "Even when your dad says stop, never stop." Heh.
After the requisite attempt by his father to "scare him straight" -- ewww -- Bodi heads to the city below to get some licks in with his homemade guitar. And to find Scattergood to get some lessons. This being what it is, hapless recognizes hapless. Scattergood, who could be the well-off scion of MC Skat Kat, needs Bodi more than Bodi knows.
The wolves, meanwhile, headed up by Linnux (Lewis Black) are hot on Bodi's trail. Linnux runs a fight club, of course.
Short version: The film is 'Zootopia' in the night-time, with glimpses into a seedy underbelly populated by wolves in suits.
The character names are derivative -- aren't they all? -- but that's what makes these great: the narrator is Fleetwood Yak, Fleet (Sam Elliott in fine gravelly form) for short; the barber's name is Floyd; some wolf henchmen are named Scozz and Riff; there's a robot maid named Ozzie.
And there are plenty of chuckles in the village, too: "knitted goods, locally produced," "dry goods," etc. The computer animation is overly stylized and distracting at first, but ultimately blends in to the background it's supposed to be.
This is a rock fable adapted from the graphic novel, 'Tibetan Rock Dog.'
Fans of the novel will delight in seeing the characters brought to screen. People who had no idea the graphic novel existed will smile at the movie's self-awareness thrown in for good measure by director and co-writer Ash Brannon.
Children could be a little scared.
After all, the wolves don't want the sheep for their wool, now do they? When they roll up on Snow Mountain, they don't bring guns, they bring charcoal grills. As one child in the screening said, "Mommy, I don't want to see that dog get eaten."
(Music helps everyone find their way, though, so there, there. The throwback run time of 80 minutes doesn't hurt, either.)
In the glorious end, Rock Dog will make you think you've seen too many movies and that you're privy to too many of those movies' tricks. You'll also want silent Scozz and off-the-cuff Riff (an unmistakable Kenan Thompson, SNL-ing all over the place) to have their own movie.
Rock Dog is memorable enough, especially that not-bad song that eventually ties everything together, and it goes down easy. Just like popcorn.
Rock Dog (B-)
Directed by Ash Brannon. PG (for ). 80 minutes. In wide release.