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Bingo

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It’s a perverse fact of life that home video gets the late-summer blues right around February. This year there’s a long stretch of VCR ennui between the big holiday videos (Terminator 2) and the spring barrage of more serious films that were in theaters last fall (The Doctor). But the lack of new ”A” titles doesn’t mean there won’t be a whole lot of renting going on. In fact, a movie that got lost in the summer shuffle is primed to take advantage of the video downtime. Bingo seems to be a made-to-order weekend rental for kids. Ironically, this movie turn out to be well suited to this inverse dog days: It’s dogs. Bingo even stars one.

You’re thinking, perhaps, that fuzzy-animal flicks are foolproof. Fifteen minutes of Bingo should disabuse you of the notion: This is one cynical critter cash-in. Not to blame Bingo, a friendly-looking mongrel (in cross-shedding Lassie tradition, she plays a he). But everything else about this Incredible Journey knockoff feels third-rate, uninspired, even cruel.

After fleeing a traveling circus, Bingo befriends Chuckie (Robert J. Steinmiller Jr., a pasty mouth-breather who may be the least appealing kiddie actor to come along since Problem Child‘s Michael Oliver). Sensitive Chuckie is despised by his pro footballer dad and thuggy jock brother, and when Dad gets traded to Green Bay, Bingo hits the road in pursuit of his misfit pal. It’s a trip fraught with painfully unfunny adventures, including one horrific set piece about a diner owner who grinds stray pooches into hot-dog meat.

More bothersome, though, is that Bingo gives kids an awful message about animals. Over and over, we see Bingo act and get treated as if he were human. He skateboards, he drives a truck, he dials 911, he testifies in court, he’s hired on as a restaurant dishwasher. Yeah, it’s supposed to be cute, but the subtext is that dogs are just little people in fur suits; anyone who really loves animals will tell you how wrong headed that is. Dogs is dogs, as your own kids will find out when they send the family pup downhill on a skateboard.

With Bingo, not much thought has gone into this project beyond a title and a ”surefire” concept. The lesson of this dog-day woofer may be that this is the time to investigate shelves in the video store other than the new-titles rack. D-

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