Don Cheadle's sad eyes have never looked as perfunctory as they do in Hotel for Dogs, a movie intended for children and those lonely old women who simply can't restrain letting loose with a loud "awww" every time a dog appears on a movie screen. Cheadle has a tiny role in the film, and one good joke to perform, but the surprising thing is that, for the first time ever, there doesn't seem to be anything behind his eyes: He is a paid actor, emotionless under the thinnest veneer of professionalism, and he's obviously in it for the—one would hope enormous—paycheck.
At least the movie isn't all bad. Two orphans (Julia Roberts' niece Emma Roberts, a natural-born fluff-movie star, and the Monchichi-faced Jake T. Austin, bland for a boy genius) transform an abandoned hotel into, derr, a hotel for dogs. The Rube Goldberg devices the orphans employ to entertain and groom the dogs are somewhat clever for a family-friendly Hollywood movie, but they're not worth making a special trip to the theater for. There are poop and pee jokes, but not so many to make the film offensive. There is educational multiculturalism (the black girl steps in a lot of dog poo, but then the white girl does, too, because we're all equal!).
The movie is refreshingly argumentative with authority figures: The police are lazy and stupid, dogcatchers are cruel and ignorant, and the orphans' foster parents (including Lisa Kudrow, who is trying harder than Cheadle and looking twice as bad for it), who are still trying to live their rock-and-roll dreams, are the biggest buffoons of all. Only Cheadle is an adult we can trust, and at the end of the movie, as he descends from the heavens with a giant book to deliver the moral of the film, we are supposed to feel a rush of excitement, of properly applied wisdom and empathy. Instead, we gaze into his empty, sad eyes and wonder where our childhood went.