Review of I Heart Shakey

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"I Heart Shakey" is a family film about a 35-year-old widower named J.T. O'Neil, his precocious 10-year-old daughter and their loyal dog Shakey.
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Movie Review: "I Heart Shakey" --

Rating: PG (rude humor, mild language, brief smoking)
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: June 29, 2012
Directed by: Kevin Cooper
Genre: Comedy
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

"I Heart Shakey" is billed as the very first 3D live-action independent film that doesn't use any computer-generated images (CGI). Although this may seem like a lofty way to advertise a movie, the producers could rely solely on the film's many merits instead. This is primarily a family comedy that also doubles as a heart-felt story about family. It will entertain both kids and parents alike, which is all the advertising it really needs.

The film centers on J.T. O'Neil (Steve Lemme), a single father who is doing a great job of raising his daughter Chandler (Rylie Behr). They live in Ohio with their dog Shakey, a mutt they rescued from a shelter. J.T. is a widower and seems to have adjusted well to life without his late wife. Chandler also seems to be a very well-adjusted young girl who is happy with life.

J.T. gets a chance for a huge promotion that would mean a better chef position and a lot more money. It is basically his dream job, but there is just one problem. It would require him to uproot Chandler and Shakey and move to Chicago. Although Chicago and Ohio are right next to each other on the map, they couldn't be further apart in terms of lifestyle. In Ohio, the family has a nice home with a huge backyard for Shakey to run around in. In Chicago, they would have to settle into an apartment and take Shakey for walks.

J.T. also doesn't want to uproot Chandler so soon after her mother's death, fearing it would be too much change too soon. He floats the idea to his daughter, and although she is hesitant at first, she realizes that she wants her dad to follow his dreams and be happy. She agrees to move and the search is on for a new home.

They find a suitable apartment in a nice building with security and decide that they are going to "rule Chicago." It is little moments like this one between father and daughter that really warm the heart. Even fairly cynical moviegoers will likely laugh at the silly jokes they exchange. It isn't often that two actors have such good chemistry in a father-daughter dynamic, but Lemme and Behr definitely have it in this film.

When the family gets to Chicago, one of the building's board members, Estelle Willinger (Janet Ulrich Brooks), tells J.T. that dogs are forbidden as a part of his lease. It is a little unbelievable that a pet owner would overlook this part of their lease, but it somehow fell through the cracks. Since they are both very attached to Shakey, they find increasingly comical ways to try and hide him in the apartment. Unfortunately, Estelle is a modern-day version of Cruella DeVil and finds out they are keeping the dog. They are forced to get rid of the dog or be homeless.

J.T. finds a man named Stubbs (Steve Guttenberg) nearby who has a house with a yard and other dogs Shakey can play with. He reluctantly gives him up, but Chandler is not convinced this is a good home. She spies on Stubbs and sees that he trains the dogs to be aggressive and mean. She then hatches a plot to get Shakey back. Hilarity and plenty of physical comedy ensue.

The story is good and the banter by screenwriters Kevin Cooper (who also directed) and Eric Stolze is also done well. The really surprising part is that the film was made on an absolute shoestring budget but still has very high production values. There are even a few animation sequences that fit right in and do not look low quality like they do on some indie films.

Steve Guttenberg returns to his classic comic form in "I Heart Shakey." Viewers who remember him during his 1980s heyday will wish he had more screen time. As the volatile and possibly crazy Stubbs, he steals every scene he is in. The only unfortunate part is that he isn't in enough scenes.

Lemme is a revelation in his touching role as the father in this film. He had previously made a series of raunchy films with the Broken Lizard comedy troupe. This is a far cry from the mayhem, drug humor and gratuitous nudity that defines those films. He pulls of the change to single dad effortlessly. Perhaps that means the true star of this film was casting director Claire Simon, who nailed the casting of each and every part in this winning family comedy.