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
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
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