DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

HOW TO KILL YOUR NEIGHBOR'S DOG (director/writer: Michael Kalesniko; cinematographer: Hubert Taczanowski; editor: Pamela Martin; music: David Robbins; cast:  Kenneth Branagh (Peter McGowan), Robin Wright (Melanie McGowan), Peter Riegert (Larry), Suzi Hofrichter (Amy Walsh), Lynn Redgrave (Edna), Jared Harris (False Peter), Johnathan Schaech (Adam), Lucinda Jenney (Trina Walsh), Peri Gilpin (Debra Salhany), Tamala Jones (Laura Leeton, traffic reporter), David Krumholtz (Brian Sellars), Kaitlin Hopkins (Victoria), Jay Brazeau (Proctologist), Stacy Hogue (Babysitter), Brett Rickaby (Janitor); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Brad Weston/ Nancy M. Ruff/Michael Nozik; Millennium Films; 2000)

"Fails to overcome its vapid drama."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

British Columbia, Canada -born writer-director Michael Kalesniko gets off a few witty one-liners in this devious acerbic comedy, but fails to overcome its vapid drama. After a short limited run in selected theaters it went straight to video.

Peter McGowan (
Kenneth Branagh) is a chain-smoking, embittered, Brit playwright living in the suburbs of Los Angeles with his upbeat American dancer wife Melanie (Robin Wright) and her Alzheimer's-stricken mother Edna (Lynn Redgrave). The once popular angry bad boy has bombed in the box office the last seven years and has gone into a funk. He's distracted when a crazed stalker fan (Jared Harris), claiming to be him, roams his neighborhood. He acts like an asshole when his wife Melanie tells him she wants to have a kid, and he suddenly becomes impotent. This results in a funny visit to his doctor (Jay Brazeau) for a prostate exam. During rehearsals for his new play about sexual politics, he gets no help fixing the bad dialogue for the child's part by the swishy young director (David Krumholtz), who only offers absurd critiques in songs by Petula Clark. McGowan's  laconic producer and best friend (Peter Riegert) is there only for moral support. The clueless stars (Johnathon Schaech & Kaitlin Hopkins) are frustrated in not getting any direction for their parts from the author or director.

Amy Walsh (Suzi Hofrichter) is a precocious 8-year-old loner who recently moves in next door to McGowan with her protective single mother, Trina (Lucinda Jenney), and their barking dog, Baby. The dog's barking keeps McGowan up all night, making him more irritable than usual. Amy has a mild case of cerebral palsy, leaving her legs difficult to manage. Left home alone, the imaginative girl plays with her dolls and pretends to serve them tea. Her plight attracts Peter, who encourages her to walk and even dance. His empathy for Amy causes him to bond with her and she inspires the jaded playwright to have a spiritual rebirth and to use her words to give his new play more relevancy for the child's part.

The moribund film only breathes some life when it dives fully into sentimentality. It never sinks too low, however, because Kenneth Branagh nails his part and makes us root for his curmudgeon character despite his drawbacks.

REVIEWED ON 2/28/2017       GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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