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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

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---

Review by Steve Rhodes
1 star out of 4

DOG PARK, a movie by first-time writer and director Bruce McCulloch, concerns a group of singles who meet in dog parks, where single dogs and humans get to mingle with other singles. The only rule is that the owners reveal their dogs' names but never their own. Too bad the actors, in this imitation of a bad sitcom pilot, couldn't get their names removed from the credits. The dogs, who only drool and smile, deliver more lively and interesting performances.

In Heaven the characters in this movie must have missed the table where they passed out personalities. They are all vapid. In the few, the very few, times the movie approaches even mildly cute, the director kills the moment, almost as if he were trying to keep the movie from being funny. Although marketed as a romantic comedy, in truth the movie belongs to a genre that might be called laughless non-romances. The studio did not screen the film in advance to critics in the hope, one suspects, that some people would see it before the word got out as to how bad it was.

As in a daytime soap opera, the characters are captured in periodic shifts of their musical beds. A used to sleep with B but has now switched to C, who used to live with D, etc. You get the idea. In fact, you could probably write a better script from this premise than McCulloch did.

Andy (Luke Wilson), who is depressed because he's just broken up with his girlfriend, is given a cassette by his friend Jeff (McCulloch, the director). It contains "the saddest songs in the Western World," Jeff tells him. "What you need is country and western music." Once Andy can listen to it without crying, Jeff claims that he will be over the break-up.

Typical of the stilted dialog is a scene in a bar in which Andy meets his new girlfriend, Lorna (Natasha Henstridge), who plays Miss Bookworm in a kids' TV series. When the lonely Lorna changes her drink order to a double, the bartender grimaces and says "ouch!"

"What do you do?" Lorna asks Andy when he comes over to strike up a conversation with her. "I work writing classifieds," he replies with his signature earnestness, as if his every answer had some hidden sad portent. "I've read your work -- some of it's pretty good," she says. The scene, which is one of those with a modicum of promise, is killed by the dull tone that the director sets. Another scene with unrealized potential has a dog psychiatrist advising the dog's owners, who are no longer a couple, not to have wild sex in their respective houses since it traumatizes the pooch.

When the two lovebirds, Andy and Lorna, go home to kiss, they look like a couple of adults trying to make fish mouths to entertain small children. Surely these actors have kissed someone before. If not, they should have practiced in advance.

As lifestyle editor Jeri, Jeff's current squeeze, Janeane Garofalo isn't able to do anything with her part. Maybe the movie's material was hopeless from the outset.

I have spared the rest of the large cast from embarrassment by not mentioning their names. A sleep-inducing film, DOG PARK simply has nothing to recommend it. It should have gone direct to video so that the lower price would make viewers feel slightly less cheated.

DOG PARK runs 1:31. It is rated R for sexuality and language and would be acceptable for teenagers.

Copyright 1999 Steve Rhodes

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