Los Angeles Times

'Dog Park'

Times Staff Writer

If the film "Dog Park" were the only guide to Toronto, one might easily conclude that only 10 people live there and that most of them tend toward obtuse.
     Written and directed by one-time Kid in the Hall Bruce McCulloch, "Dog Park" has the outward appearance of a by-the-book romantic comedy. Peel away the layers of contrivances, however, and the leftover plot barely fills a doggy bag.
     From the start, the ensemble orbits around Andy (Luke Wilson, also in the recent release "Blue Streak"), who mopes about after his girlfriend left him--and took the dog. The four women in his life are his ex, Cheryl (Kathleen Robertson); his best friend Jeri (Janeane Garofalo); a sexually aggressive nutritionist (Kristin Lehman); and the oh-so-lovely Lorna (Natasha Henstridge).
     The idea here is that these characters' dogs reflect what is happening in their owners' lives. The reality, however, is that the people are hardly more complex than their four-legged friends. Defined solely by their dating lives--wary, intrusive, too-quick-to-commit--the characters are so uninteresting, it's difficult to believe they're interested in each other.
     Wilson has a certain aw-shucks, nice-guy appeal, while Henstridge ("Species") is undeniably attractive to anybody who can get one eye open. Yet neither has the charm to create a whole character who can transcend stilted scenes and awkward dialogue such as "I liked holding your hair." (Huh?) McCulloch saves the best rant for himself as Jeff, Jeri's long-term boyfriend. Another Kids in the Hall alum, Mark McKinney, steals his few scenes as the dog psychologist unable to deal with humans.
     Garofalo, in a smallish part, pretty much walks through the film, yet somehow infuses Jeri with a modicum of personality. Wilson's rising star, plus the combination of Garofalo and the word "Dog" in the title, must have been enough to interest New Line, which is distributing the movie in the United States. But this is no "The Truth About Cats and Dogs," which handled human insecurities with style and humor.
     "Dog Park," rather than conflict, has coincidence: Lorna's ex is dating Andy's ex, etc. Their world gets smaller and smaller until, by the end, there are zero degrees of separation between any of the characters. The connections are supposed to be clever, but the result is claustrophobic. And baffling. How can this handful of people move in a circle so small, yet never realize how they are linked?
     The too-small-world feel is made more disconcerting by the lack of extras in the bars, restaurant and park, compounded by the absence of ambient noise. Despite otherwise high production values, the story looks--and sounds--as if it takes place in an unpopulated alternate universe.      If that's what Canada is like, it sure would ease the minds of the Film and Television Action Committee that spearheaded the anti-Canada "Bring Hollywood Home" campaign. No worries, guys--there aren't any Canadians to take your jobs.

Dog Park, 1999. R for sexuality and language. A New Line release of an Accent Entertainment Co. production. Written and directed by Bruce McCulloch. Produced by Susan Cavan. Executive producer Jeff Sackman. Director of photography David Makin. Production designer Marian Wihak. Editor Christopher Cooper. Music composer Craig Northey. Costume designer Linda Muir. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. Natasha Henstridge as Lorna. Luke Wilson as Andy. Janeane Garofalo as Jeri. Bruce McCulloch as Jeff.

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