Rated R, 93 min. Directed by Bruce McCulloch. Starring Natasha Henstridge, Luke Wilson, Kathleen Robertson, Bruce McCulloch, Janeane Garofalo, Kristin Lehman, Mark McKinney, Amie Carey.
Kids-in-the-Hall alum McCulloch's directorial debut barrels out of the gate with a promising pedigree only to collapse just shy of funny and this side of engaging. The quirky, but ultimately disappointing, romantic comedy tracks the meandering hearts of seven singles in Toronto, whose daily dramas converge in the dog park they all frequent. McCulloch's thesis that these dog parks have become the singles bars of the Nineties is amusing, but it's nothing to construct a film around, for God's sake. Unfortunately, no one told him that, so we are left with entire scenes and limp comic bits about characters who project all their personality, longing, and neediness onto their pups. The story centers on Andy (Wilson), a perpetually flummoxed chap suffering after the sudden collapse of his relationship with Cheryl (Beverly Hills 90210's Robertson). When a dalliance with a beautiful stranger (Henstridge) refuses to develop into something more, Andy instead falls in with a gorgeous, sex-crazed party girl (Lehman), much to the dismay of his supportive, but obnoxiously cloying, best friends Jeff and Jeri (McCulloch and Garofalo). As Wilson's love-shy object of desire, Henstridge exudes the kind of confidence possessed only by women who have never spent a moment as anything less than stunning. Despite efforts to dull her plasticine, supermodel good looks (like dying and cutting her sexy blond locks), she seems hopelessly miscast, and her maneuvers to avoid Andy make her seem like a vain, heartless bitch rather than the self-conscious commitment-phobe the writing seems to suggest. Indeed, the whole film seems miscast, with each story thread looking as if it were tugged from a different studio lot: Henstridge is all slick Hollywood romance; Garofalo and McKinney are tongue-in-cheek Comedy Central; Robertson pouts and gushes Aaron Spelling's melodramatics; and the earnest, amiable Wilson is … what is Wilson anyway? Actually, McCulloch's comic writing seems most secure in the hands of his Kids in the Hall colleague, Mark McKinney, as an over-the-top dog psychiatrist, who at least picks a direction and runs with it. To each actor's credit, McCulloch's writing is off-kilter and at times hard to gauge, an unusual hybrid of sincerity and deadpan mockery, which I suppose could be quite effective. But as a director, McCulloch leaves a lot to be desired, underscoring emotional moments with intrusive, all-too-obvious close-ups, and stretching comic antics far too long. Despite these flaws, Dog Park has moments both humorous and tender, although hardly enough to recommend it. All those talented Kids in the Hall alums seem to be fighting to find their niche years after their classic comic troupe disbanded, but McCulloch seems to be losing the battle. Next week, another film he directed, Superstar (based on Saturday Night Live's finger-sniffing Mary Katherine Gallagher) hits the gigaplexes. Come on, Bruce. Where's the pooper scooper already?
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