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Review: 'Dog Park' less than fetching

October 18, 1999
Web posted at: 12:43 p.m. EST (1643 GMT)

By Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- You probably shouldn't try to create a romantic date movie if your comic sensibility is characterized by surreal smugness. Bruce McCulloch wrote, directed and co-stars in the depressingly inert 1998 Canadian film "Dog Park," getting a limited release in the United States. Many people will recognize McCulloch as the strangest member of the comedy troupe Kids in the Hall.

His characters on the Kids' often terrific TV series inhabited a realm somewhere between odd and flat-out deranged. TV's only comparable talent is Martin Short, who cooks up stuff like brain-damaged synchronized swimmers when everyone else is doing unctuous lounge-singer riffs. Short's buffer against rejection is that he displays obvious affection for his warped creations; he sympathizes with them.

Theatrical preview for "Dog Park"
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McCulloch is more reminiscent of Charles Manson than Charles Chaplin, so it's not surprising that the heartfelt sequences of "Dog Park" are wholly ineffective. McCulloch's not much of a screenwriter. He likes to shift disparate characters into related story lines via what can only be called amazing coincidences. His most serious failing as a filmmaker, though, is an over-reliance on sappy music and poorly conceived monologues.

The jokes in "Dog Park" that do get a laugh -- and there sure aren't many of them -- have the kind of off-kilter loopiness you expect from McCulloch. Then things slow down to a mawkish crawl, acoustic guitars and violins crank up and people spit out overwritten observations about modern love and fractured romance.

Just about every character gets to talk like a starry-eyed relationship counselor at one time or another. It seems like each has memorized a poetic remark that came to him or her after the last breakup.

A decent cast flounders along, trying to make it all seem cute. Luke Wilson stars as Andy, an emotionally downtrodden classified-ads writer who, as the film opens, has just split up with his girlfriend, Cheryl (Kathleen Robertson). She has taken all her worldly possessions with her, including Mowgli, the dog she originally gave to Andy as a gift. Andy still hangs around at the dog park, though, and checks out the various women who gather there with their pets.

That's called a setup in the script business, but it's about as inventive as having the central characters meet at an aerobics class or in the produce department at the grocery store. You know, squeezing zucchini and leering at each other.

Garofalo yes, film no

Andy, of course, is looking for a warm, loving relationship, and he receives counsel from his happily married best friends, Jeri and Jeff. Janeane Garofalo plays Jeri with as much laconic dazzle as ever, but it's become woefully apparent that the woman cannot pick a decent script.

It's gotten to a point at which her name in a movie ad promises one very agreeable performance (hers) and a film that starts off with a "hip" premise, then has nowhere to go. McCulloch plays Jeff, and he generates an unnecessary creepiness when he kisses and cuddles with Jeri. He's just not right for the role.

One night, Andy picks up Lorna (Natasha Henstridge), a children's TV-show hostess whose boyfriend has left her high and dry. The TV hostess stuff is another piece of cheap writing. It's reminiscent of Victoria Tennant's character in Steve Martin's "L.A. Story" (1991), who's supposed to be the romantic interest but is solely defined by her penchant for playing the tuba.



In both instances, a self-consciously wacky detail substitutes for creating a believably shaded human being. Henstridge is sweetly appealing in her biggest movie role as a human being. She's best known for playing a well-built, oversexed alien in "Species" (1995) and "Species II" (1998). Lorna and Andy endure the usual romantic-comedy high jinks, including going out with insane people when they secretly realize they should be going out with each other.

Everybody in the film has a dog to dote on, to no real end. Andy and Cheryl agree to set aside their differences and take Mowgli, who's grown unhappy since their breakup, to a New Age dog psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist is played by Mark McKinney, one of McCulloch's Kids in the Hall buddies. His scenes are the best, because they're structured like skits from the TV show. (That's obviously where McCulloch's talent lies.) The joke is that the doctor can handle the dog's problems, but Andy and Cheryl make him nervous. You may find you know exactly how he feels.

It all wraps up, sort of, at an obedience-school graduation ceremony. Unfortunately, the film is playing dead by then.

"Dog Park" contains fleeting nudity and some bad language, but there are no real scenes to offend the sexually hypersensitive. It's just boring. Rated R. 90 minutes.

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Official 'Dog Park' site
Lions Gate Films
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