by Dane Youssef
ONCE-time "Kid-In-The-Hall "Bruce McCulloch has one good-as-gold nugget of an idea here. 'Cause speaking from personal first-hand experience, the dog park is one special, magical place. The true place for any dog, dog owner and dog lover.
The dogs are given some amount of room to roam and socialize, good or bad. And so are their owners.
And you know.... movies are filmed all the time in Canada, American movies even! For the sake of wide roaming space and less cost. There are Canadian movies... made in Canada. But so very, very few.... But... this does.
Ah, at last! A movie shot in Toronto that takes place in Toronto. In Canada, even.
I'm happy (and grateful) to say that "Dog Park" eschews a few clichés--where him and her start out hating each other, then fall in love. Like a lot of goofy prat-falling slapstick.
Bruce McCulloch has been a of the Canadian talent-troupe "The Kids In The Hall," helping define the term "big-name popular Canadian humor." He's cut out two very inspired albums. He made sketch comedy to be what it is in his native country. He's done several big-selling one man shows.
And here, he makes his debut as a filmmaker. In this pittance-budgeted, largely self-reliant feature. Here, he's screenwriter, director and co-star telling a story that's very near, dear and personal to his heart. In the tradition of such as "Joe the King," "Nil By Mouth," "The Kid & I" and "Hollywood Shuffle." Bruce has made short films. Can he hold his own for 80 minutes?
Well, not here at least.
Bruce's "Dog Park" wants to be a relationship comedy about people and their desire to just love and be loved. And they begin smothering their dogs when they just can't to seem to connect with their fellow man.
"Dog Park" tells us a tale, or rather a shaggy dog story of several different people who are having trouble finding love, or keeping it.
Andy is a 30-something who writes classified ads. His girlfriend has moved out, left him and taken the dog with her. She's dating a flashy guy who, looking at his hair--you hope he's in a band.
After the break-up, Andy goes back and rather than try to put his life back in order, looks to just hook up with someone new. This is what he's been doing his whole life. He meets a new woman, she's likewise just been dumped--and is very vulnerable and defensive. With some drinks in 'em, they go back to her place and wind up doing more than they both should.
Andy's smitten. The woman--Lorna is embarrassed. She blows him off. He looks elsewhere. She's always alone 'cause love doesn't like her. He's always with someone who's a stranger to him 'cause he needs the company. Andy and Lorna's ex's are now dating each other. Huh. Toronto is a small town.
Andy and Lorna clearly belong together. But do we pine for them as they do for one another?
Well, I didn't. I wasn't on edge for this love connection. There is no real reason for us to root for him or her. Or believe in them as anything. They never even comes across as any kind of real character.
I like Luke Wilson, seriously. He has the look and charm of a love interest, but this role poisons him. He has that young modern Jimmy Stewart way about him, but no Frank Capra director way has tossed any work his way.
The man's boyish charm to spare, but that's not enough to help as Andy is less interesting as plain white bread. Not terribly charismatic, or especially witty. And in a romantic comedy, that's dead-serious.
Poor Andy, he's a dull droopy hangdog. He's just broken up with someone. He's the "nice guy who gets taken advantage of." And worst of all, he's given nothing of interest to say or to really do. But he's so boring and without merit, why get behind him or this movie? But... the same can be said of a lot of these people. And their dogs.
Natasha Henstridge--capable of acting. But you'd not know it from looking at this. She's so bad here, she comes across as the definitive example of the belief that models cannot act and should never even try. Henstridge's Lorna--so bland, without personality; if not for Henstridge's beauty, she would just disintegrate from the screen.
God Help us all, Natasha's character--even less interesting than Wilson's. You bubble up when she smiles those pearly whites, but when she speaks...
Other Canadian folk like Harland Williams isn't anything special and is especially awful. He plays the neo-weirdo Lorna goes out with after she reaches that point when a woman gets so lonely and dying from cabin-fever, she rushes to go out with the first guy she sees. But after the date... he calls her back with a message she desperately, desperately needs.
But yes, Bruce and co. I agree wholly that Andy 'n' Lorna are made for each one another. These two, so boring--without any personality or interest--that you'd have to go the morgue to find people who are less alive. These two were made for each other. Two big fat empty non-existent zeroes.
Janeane Garofolo pretty much just phones in the stock- Janeane Garofolo role, knowledgeable about relationships and life with the usual sardonic wit. Except her usual genuine humor here is gone, thanks to her un-character and lines due to the "script" courtesy of McCulloch. She might have been better cast in the Lorna role. But no, Janeane has too much of a pulse.
Bruce actually gives himself a substantial supporting role as the "his" of a pathologically married "His and Hers" couple with Garofolo. She still seems almost human, almost possible. She seems to persevere through this incompetence.
He's always been a bad actor, but in his skits, it's easier to forgive. Even in "Dick," he wasn't around long. And with this unfinished first draft of a script and butterfingers monotone direction, all the actors more or less sink.
These actors can act. But his movie manages to convince you they can't. So really, Bruce's horrible thespian attempts actually fit right in.
Wilson, Henstridge, Garofolo, Lehman, Currie and Williams. They're all good actors and we know they can do better--we've seen it. But they're all bound by rough draft outline and direction that could have done better by a first-year film student at a community college.
Every ounce of blame goes to the man who half-conceived this big ball of half-considered, unfunny awkwardness-- McCulloch. The characters, duller than dullest. Nearly every single line of dialogue and scene feels awkward and mishandled.
All throughout, McCulloch seems to lack the ability to write a decent romantic scene, a full-fledged written character or a line of dialouge that hears well. When it comes to writing personally, he should well-stick to skits.
Or maybe just checks--if any of them are any good. Better than this thing.
"Dog Park" has no mood to it. Every scene is badly staged. It was so bad, I damn near expected this thing to have a laugh track.
While many of these types exist out there in the world (the sad-sack jilted lover, the cynical sage advisors, the seemingly perfect couple, the superficial couple, the weird oddball, the nypho and the love-scorn pessimist), the movie takes these stock-types and injects no humanity into them whatsoever. No one feels authentic, or even interesting.
Over the years, McCulloch has developed one tin cauliflower ear for dialogue. It seems at times like somewhere between a rough draft and someone random guy off the street trying to improv movie scenes half-heartedly.
Well, this is a Canadian-based film. Maybe the humor just doesn't travel well.
As been said by pretty much every other on the planet who saw this, the only performance, character and scene of fellow "Kids In The Hall" brethren Mark McKinney as Dr. Cavan, an insightful and bizarre dog psychiatrist who is fluent in dog tongue. There's even a brilliant monologue about how and why people treat their pets like their children and where canines truly do and should stand in the natural order of things.
And to all of you who have a respectable film industry in your country--Now brace yourself for this. I mean really, really summon yourself. Prepare for this earth-turning, shaking shock.
This shoddy blueprint of a script (yes, courtesy of Brucio himself) got nominations for Best Original Screenplay for the Canadian Comedy Awards and the Genies. Fellow Kid McKinney won Best Supporting Actor.
OK. McKinney's win was a little more understandable, but if this was a major motion picture in America, it might have swept the Razzies. Competition must be lean, lean up north.
Canada is wonderfully under-populated. There's not a lot of money in the Canadian system. The movies made by the Canucks are all independents. They don't have a film industry--no Hollywood or Bollywood of their very own. So cut them some slack for their inability to make good movies. All the Canadians with any talent for film are working over here in America--that's true for any Canadian entertainer as the Canadian entertainment industry, as the low populace means jobs in show business up north are in short supply.
It might have been alright for his skits, but not one person in this whole damn thing... comes off as believable. Or really all that insightful.
A lot of these lines could have been used for a big spoof! Maybe even "Date Movie." If only they were funny somehow.
Some sparse insights here and there, but nothing too entertaining. Which could be said about the movie overall. There's just no reason to make a real effort. No special insights about dating, relationships, nature--human or canine. Lacking interesting people, philosophies about relationships or anything resembling a good movie-going experience, "Dog Park" isn't about to inspire faith into the world as good movies are made in "The True North--Strong and Free."
Go to your own local dog park with your dog, make small talk with your own local dog wielding folk, your own friends at work and at the end of day, rent something like "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" or a "Lassie" movie.
No bark, no bite, no charm, no life. Stay away from this stray.
Now if you'll excuse me, as I write this, it's 7:30 on the dot. The dogs are at the door, with Christmas morning-like anticipation. Tails wagging, eyes fixated on the door. Why?
It's time for our evening constitutional, the high point of our day. Why?
Why, as we dog owners know, the local dog park is a treat. They're like late-night singles night clubs up in the city after hours. Anything goes, and does...
--A Life-Long, Die-Hard Dog Lover, Dane Youssef