Brian Foster (Wesley Eure, Land of the Lost) is a young inventor whose latest creation might revolutionize home security. It’s C.H.O.M.P.S. – Canine HOMe Protection System – a robot terrier fitted with a highly intelligent brain, super strength, and X-ray vision. It can even adapt its fighting technique to any environment – let’s say, should two bumbling burglars attempt to disguise themselves as department store mannequins, C.H.O.M.P.S. will instantly determine how to operate a nearby automated tennis ball pitcher, pelting the burglars into submission. He also leaps through windows and brick walls, so you should expect some collateral damage if there’s the slightest hint of trouble.
Brian’s girlfriend, Casey (Valerie Bertinelli), is impressed/horrified when he reveals his new invention, as is the dog next door, who, for some reason, has been gifted the voice-over of a mumbling hobo:
Incidentally, no other dogs in this film talk, just that one next door. He’s the Goofy to a world of Plutos.
Perhaps because he did not choose a Great Dane or a Doberman or a bulldog – i.e., one of the manly dogs – it’s a hard sell when Brian tries to describe his one-dog-army to the head of Norton Security, Casey’s dad, Ralph Norton (Conrad Bain of Diff’rent Strokes), but C.H.O.M.P.S. quickly proves himself against some masked bandits. If there’s one thing C.H.O.M.P.S. loves, it’s chasing robbers, and this city is full of them. In this scene, our robot hero pursues his quarry relentlessly, and to the tune of thousands of dollars in property damage:
Norton Security’s chief rival is played by Jim Backus (Gilligan’s Island), and he enlists a corporate spy (Larry Bishop) and a pair of burglars (one of whom is played by Red Buttons) to try to steal Norton’s secrets; meanwhile, Norton plans to merge with “one of the biggest electronic system conglomerates in the world,” Park Systems, but must prove C.H.O.M.P.S.’s effectiveness first with an elaborate demonstration involving six military vehicles and six explosive devices. It goes like this: while the vehicles idle slowly forward toward the explosives, C.H.O.M.P.S. must spring into action, investigate the devices, decide which one of the six is live, and carry it to a safe disposal point far away from the vehicles. This should be a cinch. But Norton has accidentally taken the wrong dog: Rascal, Brian’s flesh-and-blood canine companion who does not have X-ray vision nor super-strength, and has no clue how to operate automated tennis ball pitching devices. Rascal does his damnedest, running back and forth between the vehicles and barking at them in a manner which suggests he wants them to play. At the last possible moment, Brian and Casey arrive with the real C.H.O.M.P.S., and the robot dog leaps to the rescue, not only disposing of the live explosive, but also Jim Backus:
All right, so let’s say you’re a child in 1979 taken to see C.H.O.M.P.S. – probably by your father, who impresses your mom by volunteering to take you to the stupid kiddie movie while she gets to enjoy a relaxing night at home, perhaps playing a game of Boggle with her girlfriends, or watching The Incredible Hulk. Dad just heard that the film features Valerie Bertinelli in a tennis uniform with a very short skirt, so he’s looking forward to this. You want ROBOT DOG. All you care about is ROBOT DOG. You have convinced yourself that there is nothing cooler than ROBOT DOG, and since your cheapskate parents won’t spring for a real pet, ROBOT DOG will have to do. So the movie begins, and there’s some animated opening credits, and a talking dog who sounds kind of like a mumbling hobo, and you don’t much care for that scene where Brian makes out with Casey, but there’s lots of cool stuff where C.H.O.M.P.S. foils the bad guys by jumping through walls and running at them in slow motion while the triumphant C.H.O.M.P.S. theme song plays, that you will never get out of your head. And so you’re getting your money’s worth. And Dad’s happy, because of this:
So you really worried, for a while there, that the real dog, the meat-dog, Rascal, was going to be blown to bloody dog-bits by the explosive device on the training grounds, but thank goodness he blew up that stuck-up guy from Gilligan’s Island instead. The heroes return to Norton Security and catch the burglars in the act of stealing the C.H.O.M.P.S. plans. Surely the movie is about to end, and you’ll probably only have to watch Brian making kissy-face with Casey one more time. But something’s wrong. C.H.O.M.P.S.’s supersonic hearing picks up the ticking of a time bomb. He sprints into the building and down the hallway. And this happens:
By now you’ve swallowed your gum in shock, or perhaps you’re just sobbing hysterically into the lap of your dumbfounded father, who’s having second thoughts about taking you to this instead of staying home and watching The Incredible Hulk. Your little mind is trying to fathom this. C.H.O.M.P.S. is dead. Lying in a flattened, smoldering heap – dead. Plucky little Rascal, like you, has never encountered death before, and doesn’t understand why his friendly robot bestest friend doesn’t respond to the offer of a rawhide bone. Wake up, Rascal. There is smoke issuing from C.H.O.M.P.S.’s blackened neck. Just then, the eyes of the robot dog glow a bright red. Oh, God – is he coming back from the grave as some kind of demon-hound? No, C.H.O.M.P.S. still has the spark of life in him. That’s right, he’s still alive, which means he’s suffering. You collapse back into your father’s lap. He’s certain, now, that an evening of fondue and Lou Ferrigno would have been preferable. But look! A quick edit, and we’re back in Brian’s lab, where he’s not only repaired C.H.O.M.P.S., but designed a whole army of them! Through your tears, you blink up at your father, and out at the screen. Could it be true? Yes!
Okay, the movie’s trying to tell you there’s dozens of these guys, but really they’re just editing around the same three dogs posed in different locations – I mean, how dumb do they think you are? But still. C.H.O.M.P.S. is alive. Now you are resolved – you must have a ROBOT DOG of your own. There is nothing better than ROBOT DOG. And on the long drive home, your father cranks up Captain & Tenille and tries very, very hard to ignore you.