If you have the feeling you've seen "Top Dog" before, it may be because, in a sense, you may have. In 1989's "K-9" James Belushi played a headstrong San Diego cop reluctantly teamed with a German shepherd from the department's K-9 corps and in pursuit of a drug kingpin.
In "Top Dog," Chuck Norris also plays a headstrong San Diego cop reluctantly teamed with a K-9 corpsman, a deceptively friendly looking purebred Briard, a French herding dog named Reno. They're out to nail a white supremacist gang intent on blowing up an international racial unity rally being held in San Diego's Balboa Park--along with a string of synagogues across the country.
Not nearly as effective as "K-9," "Top Dog" is essentially yet another standard Chuck Norris martial arts movie directed by his brother Aaron, with the man-and-dog relationship thrown in for some comic relief. Reno really is a remarkable, appealing dog whose widely applauded abilities make a dent in the ego of Norris' surly loner.
Aaron Norris keeps things moving at a brisk clip, but "Top Dog" is determinedly elementary, not nearly as bright as its canine hero. Clyde Kusatsu nevertheless has a witty turn as Norris' captain, a man (improbably named Callahan) who's set his sights on the mayor's office. Michele Lamar Richards as a member of the K-9 cop squad gets to behave sensibly and to be brave, and Herta Ware manages a bit of whimsy as Norris' mother.
The film's production notes quote Aaron Norris as saying, "I wanted to make a film that I would be proud to take my kids to"--yet there is every reason to keep youngsters away from "Top Dog," which opens with an exploding building--a public housing project. A small boy's grandfather, a veteran cop, is then slain within the film's first few minutes. Martial arts movies are inherently brutal, and when coupled with a terrorist theme, as is the case here, the result is totally unsuitable for youngsters--even if the Oklahoma bombing had never occurred.
* MPAA rating: PG-13 for shootings and martial arts violence. Times guidelines: Parental caution strongly advised also because of strong terrorist menace .
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Chuck Norris: Jake Wilder
Reno: As himself
Clyde Kusatsu: Captain Callahan
Michele Lamar Richards: Savannah Boyette
An MGM/UA release of a Live Entertainment presentation of a Tanglewood Entertainment Group production. Director Aaron Norris. Producer Andy Howard. Executive producers Tom Steinmetz & Seth Willenson. Screenplay by Ron Swanson; from a story by Aaron Norris and Tim Grayem.CQ Cinematographer Joao Fernandes. Editor Peter Schink. Costumes Vernika Flower-Crow.CQ Music Hummie Man. Production designer Norm Baron. Set decorator Bill Voland. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.