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Dog Park

movie review out of 4 Movie Review: Dog Park

Starring: Luke Wilson, Natasha Henstridge
Director: Bruce McCulloch
Rated: R
RunTime: 91 Minutes
Release Date: September 1999
Genre: Romance

*Also starring: Janeane Garofalo, Bruce McCulloch, Gordon Currie, Mark McKinney, Harland Williams

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

A couple of blocks from where I live is a vest-pocket park-- nothing like the spacious Toronto meadow of Bruce McCulloch's new, light comedy--which is dominated from 7 to 9 each morning by a mostly young crew of neighborhood residents and their mostly large dogs. Few of the people on the high ends of the leashes know one another's names, but they all know the names of the canines that romp, play, and fetch on the grassy knolls. A few months ago, in fact, one of the older walkers died. A modest service was held for him in the park, though not a single person attending the function knew the name of the deceased. Such is perhaps the politics of dog parks everywhere, where pet lovers meet daily, sip their Starbucks breakfasts, and get to know everything about each other except for names. Are dog parks the answer to those who eschew gyms and single bars for meeting the opposite sex? Probably. I've seen no evidence of this in my own neighborhood but in the Bruce McCulloch's airy, 20- something world, serial monogamy is the name of the game as dog people assemble in the park, form bonds, break up, and meet once again.

McCulloch, who penned and directs the comedy, is known mostly to young movie goers as a member of the Kids in the Hall troupe whose "Brain Candy" deals with the effects of a prescription drug's running amok. The Edmonton-born writer focuses on a serial monogamist, Andy (Luke Wilson), whose many relationships belie his loneliness. Compelled by his lack of fulfillment to remain "single" for no more than four days at a time, he flits from one unsuccessful relationship to another, never giving himself time to be alone and reflective. After his woman du jour, Cheryl (Kathleen Robertson--a lookalike for the Ally Sheedy of a decade ago), leaves him for another (Gordon Currie), requiring him to share with her the custody of his beloved dog Mogley (Casey), Andy runs into the clean-cut Lorna (Nathasha Henstridge), whose perfect skin and facial symmetry make her an ideal candidate for her page-boy style hair. While the two awkwardly pursue their new relationship, each is mentored by a friend. Andy takes the advice of her newspaper editor Jeri (Janeane Garofalo), who is virtually married to Jeff (Bruce McCulloch), while Lorna, a TV host on a children's show, follows the counsel of the Joan Cusack-like Rachel (Arnie Carey).

The film's most interesting scenes are not of the unrequited people but of the dogs whom they love--the beasts who take the place of two-legged significant others. The pooches are being readied by obedience trainer-therapist Dr. Cavan (Mark McKinney--taking on the same last name as the producer of the movie)--easily the most amusing guy in the movie. He takes his job with deadly seriousness. Able to get the canines to come and go from his therapy room with a single command, he is the person you want to hire to have your own pet sit, stay, and heel, though like all the others in the film he has his share of neuroses.

Aside from him, there are few we can care about. You've got to wonder how Andy is able to travel so easily from one babe to another. He has the mannerisms of David Arquette with all the neuroses of a Woody Allen oddball--so passive that he probably attracts only women who want boys to mother. In fact one female literally buys him at an auction and proves to be so cheap and whorish that you wonder how Andy is able to stand being with her long enough to celebrate their 50th anniversary together--that's 50 instances of lovemaking.

The sexual revolution has not ended. These characters are as addicted to the pleasures of the flesh as are some people in high places today. McCulloch successfully merges the dog panoramas with the more intimate scenes of these eccentrics. But bizarre characters and whimsical episodes do not necessarily make for a satisfying whole. "Dog Park" is so feather-light that it's as forgettable as yesterday's main squeeze.

Copyright 1999 Harvey Karten

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