Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Secret Life of Pets

“Jason Bourne” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

I’ll be honest right up front: the main reason I enjoy “The Secret Life of Pets” so much is because of the headbanging poodle. This poodle was featured in the trailers for the movie, and shows up at three different times during the course of the movie itself. Each time is funnier than the previous one. In all we’re talking about a total of maybe fifteen seconds of screen time, but it generates such good will with me at just the right moments that I can’t help but love the whole movie because of it.

Headbanging poodles aside, it also helps that “The Secret Life of Pets” is a pretty well made movie in its own right. The target audience is clear: pet owners and animal lovers. Anyone not amused by funny cat videos or the canine obsession with squirrels will most likely be underwhelmed. For everyone else—that is, most of us—the movie is an enjoyable lark that answers the question that many pet owners have: What does my pet do while I’m at work all day?

From that simple question comes the premise of “The Secret Life of Pets.” Those who worry that their pet may be bored or lonely can rest assured there should be no such worry. As a matter of fact, when terrier Max (voice of Louis C.K.) get a companion in the form of big, hairy Duke (voice of Eric Stonestreet), he is not happy. He sees it as interference in the great relationship he has with his owner Katie (voice of Ellie Kemper).

The two have a short battle of wills as to who will be the top dog in Katie’s Manhattan apartment. Their battle spills over into the outside world when the two are in a dog park. Before they know it, they’re lost, without collars, and with two very determined dog catchers on their tail.

This leads them to the realm of Flushed Pets, headed by a fluffy white rabbit named Snowball (voice of Kevin Hart). Second only after the headbanging poodle, Kevin Hart’s energetic and hysterically funny performance is another reason I like this movie so much. Snowball looks fluffy and cute, though he is anything but. He is a vengeful little rabbit who carries a lot of anger over being abandoned. He’s gathered the snakes, alligators, fish, and other discarded pets into the sewers to plot an uprising against humans. It sounds dark and sinister, but Hart’s delivery—coming from a little white rabbit—keeps it light and entertaining. His lament over the loss of favored foot soldier Ricky, a goose we only see in a photo, is particularly hilarious.

The story in “The Secret Life of Pets” is impressively well-layered. In addition to Max and Duke finding their way home, we also get Max’s neighbor dog Gidget (voice of Jenny Slate), who has a major crush on Max, setting out to rescue him. She is joined by Max’s dog friends Buddy (voice of Hannibal Buress) and Mel (voice of Bobby Moynihan) as well as cat Chloe (voice of Lake Bell) and friendly hawk Tiberius (voice of Albert Brooks). Along the way, the crew gets some help from Pops (voice of Dana Carvey) an old hound dog who knows the city and has connections. Carvey’s old man voice is still as funny as ever. The fact that he has some of the funniest lines in the movie (“Every breath is a cliffhanger”) certainly helps.

Stories and characters intertwine in “The Secret Life of Pets,” and script-wise the movie is plotted very well. Credit also needs to be given to directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney for keeping the story tight and the momentum going strong. The movie is a fun, cheerful (with a couple of dark undertones, but nothing drastic) adventure story that answers once and for all what it is that pets do while their owners are away. Plus, this movie features a headbanging poodle. Never underestimate the awesomeness of a headbanging poodle. Buy it on Amazon: The Secret Life of Pets (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD).

Also New This Week

Jason Bourne

Remember those scenes in previous installments of the “Bourne” franchise in which  government agents, sitting in a headquarters halfway across the world, locate rogue operative Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), follow him with satellites and surveillance cameras, then communicate with on-site operatives to take him down? Good. Then all you have to do is take that scene from the previous movie, put it on repeat about five times over, and you’ve essentially seen “Jason Bourne.”

This has got to be one of the most thinly plotted and pointless sequel/reboot/cash grabs in movie history—and that’s saying something. “Jason Bourne” is so egregious that it barely even bothers with a plot. This is supposedly the movie in which Bourne remembers who he was before he joined Treadstone, a government black ops program. Really, it’s just one memory, a muddled flashback to the day his father (Gregg Henry) died in an explosion. That’s it—there’s your big reveal.

The movie tries to beef up the story with other plot lines. Julia Stiles is back as Nicky Parsons, now a hacker. CIA Director Richard Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) is afraid that she may divulge national security secrets. There is also Mark Zuckerberg-esque tech genius Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), who promises that anyone who uses his social media platform will not be monitored. Of course, Dewey is looking for a back door into Kalloor’s site so he can keep an eye on everyone all the time.

Either one of these ideas would have been an interesting way to flesh out the story, but they’re both so inchoate that they add next to nothing. Kalloor has some moments of internal conflict about whether to sell out to the government and questions of freedom vs. security (more relevant in this day and age than ever) do arise, but they are briefly brushed to the side so that Dewey’s protégé Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and Dewey’s Asset (Vincent Cassel) can track down Bourne and talk into earpieces.

If the plot wasn’t so thin, perhaps the chase sequences could have been a bit tighter and not droned on for so long. Most of us, particularly if we’ve seen other entries into the “Bourne” franchise, have seen these chases before. Co-writer/director Paul Greengrass offers nothing new in action or style. The chase scenes go through the motions and don’t know when to quit. The best thing to do with “Jason Bourne” is to not start in the first place. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Don’t Think Twice,” jealousy and doubt amongst members of a New York City improve group after one of its members gets his big break—and the rest realize that they may not get theirs; “Kicks” one fifteen year old’s quest through Oakland to retrieve a stolen pair of Air Jordans; “The Devil’s Dolls,” a detective’s search for his daughter in a city plagued by an ancient curse; and “The Perfect Weapon,” Steven Seagal as the powerful dictator of a totalitarian state and Johnny Messner as his main hitman/enforcer.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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