Writer-producer-director-editor Bryan Michael Stoller's labored family comedy "First Dog" tells the potentially fun story of Danny (John-Paul Howard), a foster child befriended by the president's missing dog, Teddy. The film, though, quickly becomes mired in half-baked obstacles and awkwardly staged set pieces as Danny travels alone from California to Washington, D.C., to return Teddy to the White House.
En route, Danny catches rides with rowdy teens, Paula Nelson's (Willie's daughter) country-western band, a kindly trucker (Tommy "Tiny" Lister) and bickering crooks (Paula Devicq, Tim Peyton), while being tailed by a pair of "Men in Black" knockoffs. That the plucky youngster survives the trip in one piece is a miracle, even by contrived-movie standards.
Why Danny's warm foster mom (Priscilla Barnes) is never seen trying to find the absent boy or why, after the film's initial setup, Stoller ignores the president until the far-fetched finale, are just two more curiosities.
Dolly Parton provides three original songs that suitably match this spottily acted picture's corn and treacle. One can't deny, however, that Teddy (real name: Little Bear), a Queensland Heeler once owned by President and Mrs. Reagan, is one cute canine.
"First Dog." No MPAA Rating. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. At Harkins Chino Hills 18, Chino Hills.