It’s a difficult world out there, so once in a while it sure is nice to just sit down with the family to watch a wholesome movie about a wholesome man, his wholesome dog, and their tireless, never-ending hunt for human corpses.
“Rescued By Ruby” has all the feel-good warmth of a G-rated kids flick, with bright and colorful cinematography and a musical score which probably has compositions called “Let’s Hug It Out” or something similar. But it’s the tale of a state trooper named Dan (Grant Gustin, The CW’s “The Flash”), whose biggest dream is to join the police K-9 division, which involves, once again, more searching for human remains than we’re typically used to in a family flick.
That’s not to say that “Rescued By Ruby” is in any way dire or inappropriate, but whenever the screenplay by Karen Janszen (“Dolphin Tale”) acknowledges the harsher realities of K-9 police work — like when a murderer hides his victim somewhere on his property, and it’s up to a dog to find it, hide-and-seek style — it definitely makes this movie stand out a bit. And it might raise somewhat more complicated questions from younger kids than, for example, the playful adolescent coming-of-age foibles of “Turning Red.”
Director Katt Shea (“Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase”) keeps “Rescued By Ruby” focused almost entirely on the film’s two leads. Gustin plays Dan O’Neill, a man with dyslexia and hyperactivity who always had to work ten times as hard as everyone around him for the same opportunities. Ruby is played by the dogs Bear and Shiloh, and she is such a good girl! Yes she is! Yes she is!
When “Rescued By Ruby” opens, this poor animal — who, to be clear, is so playful and fluffy you just want to hug her and give her treats — is having trouble finding a forever home, because apparently nobody who ever adopted a dog thought they’d have to train them a little. (Jerks.) But when Dan finds out he’ll have to supply his own dog for K-9 training, they’re the perfect match. They’re both bright, they’re both underestimated, and they both have something to prove.
To prove their worth to Matt (Scott Wolf), the head of the K-9 unit, they’ll have to find their own new way of training animals to seek out cellular phones, murder weapons, and corpses. Dan even gets some human remains from his dentist for practice, a plot point which gets only one sentence’s worth of screen time but which probably could have used a follow-up question or two, if you stop and think about it.
“Rescued By Ruby” is based on a true story of a rescue dog who eventually rescued other people (hence the title), but the film struggles to depict heavy drama, excelling instead at heartwarming training montages and scenes where Dan’s wife Melissa (Kaylah Zander, “Needle in a Timestack”) gradually comes to accept Ruby as part of the family and finally lets her sleep on the bed. It’s just hard to get wrapped up in the reality of Dan’s plight when there’s a sage-like character he keeps talking to when nobody else is looking who, based on the overall tone of this movie, has about a 50/50 chance of turning out to be a friendly ghost.
That overwhelmingly good-natured atmosphere comes courtesy of Gustin’s “aw, shucks” performance, Ruby’s unabashed adorableness, and the cinematography by David Bercovici-Artieda (“Fishing for Love”). Bright colors, wide angles, and plenty of “Doggy Vision” sequences never let us forget for one minute that there’s nothing scary about this world, even though we know for a fact that there are quite a few murderers in it.
Shea spent much of her directing career exposing the rot beneath social façades in films like “The Rage: Carrie 2” and “Poison Ivy,” but that ain’t “Rescued By Ruby.” Instead this is a film about the decency that drives people to expose that rot, or at least to rescue people from its infection. There’s no police corruption in this universe, and no patience for cops who don’t care about each other, their community, or their dogs. And while that may seem a little naive, it’s the perspective that this one (perhaps slightly naïve) cop has, and he’s used that attitude to inspire greatness in his cute dog.
“Rescued by Ruby” premieres on Netflix March 17.