First things first: "Sleeping Dogs Lie" opens with a scene in which it is intimated that a young woman, bored and curious, performs oral sex on her dog. For those who have not walked out (or stopped reading), the film that follows is a warmly off-kilter examination of relationship dynamics, and the things we need to tell ourselves and those around us to get through the day, be they true or not.
A few years later, the woman's new fiancé presses her to reveal her deepest secret in the name of total honesty and full disclosure. When she finally does, he is troubled and repulsed. After her family accidentally finds out as well, her world is turned upside-down.
Writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait was fairly famous in the 1980s for his stand-up persona as well as his appearances in multiple "Police Academy" movies. After his feature debut as a writer-director in 1992 with "Shakes the Clown," a sarcastic take on scheming, low-rent alcoholic clowns regarded by some as a cult classic, he eventually segued into directing for television's "The Jimmy Kimmel Show."
The performances in "Sleeping Dogs Lie," particularly by lead actress Melinda Page Hamilton, are all quite good, bringing believability and real feeling to an outlandish setup. The film's main drawback is that Goldthwait's visual style is so flat and functional, at times downright ugly, evidence perhaps of both his work in television and the rather modest means of the film's production.
Rather than the escalating gross-out spectacular it could have been, "Sleeping Dogs Lie" is an unexpectedly thoughtful look at what it takes to make relationships work. Those who recall Goldthwait's skittish, neurotic '80s stage persona will be surprised to see his name attached to a film this sensitive to human behavior, as it builds to the hard-won truth that sometimes little lies are for the best, selfless rather than self-serving, and that there can be such a thing as too much honesty.
'Sleeping Dogs Lie'
MPAA rating: R for strong and aberrant sexual content, drug use and language
A Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait. Producer Marty Pasetta Jr. Director of photography Ian S. Takahashi. Editor Jason Stewart. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.
In selected theaters.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times