Review

How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog Review

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Feb 22, 2002 | 9:52am EST

How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog is the story of acerbic curmudgeonly Peter McGowan's enlightenment a renowned critically acclaimed playwright fallen on hard times. Having knocked out a trio of Broadway blockbusters during the 1980s he is going through a dry spell though he is still considered the movie capital's most dynamic (and perhaps only) playwright. McGowan's beautiful wife exacerbates his problems putting real pressure on Peter to have children which he couldn't care less about. (He also has to deal with living with his rapidly declining mother-in-law.) And McGowan's attempts to fix up his latest production (directed by a maniacal young savant who favors old show tunes as a means of communication) are being jeopardized by his new neighbor's noisy dog which is keeping him awake at night. Ultimately Peter learns to like children thanks to the neighbor's mildly handicapped daughter fixes his play and the dog is dealt with--though not by Peter.

Kenneth Branagh playing a wordsmith is given too many words to say in the film. Most are funny some are not but Branagh is the film's comedic center and he performs that function more than adequately. Robin Wright Penn is fine as Branagh's wife/foil though she isn't given too much to do other than be happy or sad--there seems to be no in-between for her. Other actors shine brighter: David Krumholtz is hysterical as the loony director of Branagh's new play Jared Harris is too funny as Branagh's modern-day Falstaff and Suzi Hofrichter who plays the cerebral palsy-stricken Amy is a real find. (Unfortunately the laconic Peter Riegert and dumbfounded Jonathan Schaech are underused.) The highlight of the film however is Peri Gilpin's performance as the vapid TV talk show host-turned-Mike Wallace who gets her comeuppance from Branagh. Simply brilliant acting by both Gilpin and Branagh or....

...is it more wonderful writing and directing by writer/director Michael Kalesniko? That interview scene with Gilpin and Branagh is just one instance of the skillful stylized parody he uses to tell the story of a man's life in the theater in a highly theatrical style. During the course of blaming McGowan's slump on anyone but McGowan Kalesniko skewers the usual suspects: nagging wives troublesome in-laws TV news shows neurotic intellectuals lovable bums insane co-workers cynical doctors and of course the ubiquitous barking dog living next door. As Kalesniko allows McGowan to grow closer to his adorable troubled neighbor Amy the movie almost edges into predictability. Fortunately the mostly witty dialogue saves the film from too saccharine an ending rendering it a potent comedy. Ah if only Kalesniko had found someone to edit the film a little more to make it sharper and more biting.

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