Spiritless 'Dog Park' a flat, melancholy romantic comedy
Melancholy and spiritless, the dreary romantic comedy "Dog Park" plays like it was written by a depressed guy in the wake being dumped.
That guy would be former "Kids In the Hall" cast member Bruce McCulloch, who also makes his wildly unpolished directorial debut with this borderline depressing yarn about rebound romance.
The picture stars sad-eyed, generic nice guy Luke Wilson ("Home Fries") as Andy, a downtrodden recent dumpee whose ex (Kathleen Robertson) broke his heart and took his dog. Now he goes to the park without a four-legged companion and wallows in self-pity.
But within a matter of days he meets Lorna (Natasha Henstridge, "Species"), another lovelorn dog owner and they hit it off, despite a bad first date that ends with Lorna yacking up beer nuts in his toilet bowl. Believe it or not, this scene is played for charm, implying Andy is quite a catch for holding her hair while she upchucks, seeing as he hardly knows her and all.
But since all this goes on in the first 10 minutes, conflict must arise or we don't have a movie, so Lorna gets inexplicably stand-off-ish and they each date a Mr. or Miss Wrong until being reunited in the last reel at the obedience school graduation ceremony for both their dogs.
In between, McCulloch drags "Dog Park" through several flat, under-rehearsed comedic set pieces, some of which play into the movie's mutt-driven gimmick (Andy and his ex take their dog to a canine psychologist to help him deal with the break-up), while others materialize out of nowhere (Andy is put on the block at a bachelor auction and purchased by a sexpot nutritionist).
While this picture is better than most "Saturday Night Live" big-screen adaptations, it still serves as further proof (as if any was needed) that sketch comedy purveyors are generally not good sources for movie material.
McCulloch, who over-acted obnoxiously as Carl Bernstein in the Watergate comedy "Dick" this summer, plays a part in the movie, too -- as one half of a cutesy, seemingly perfect couple with a Range Rover and two dogs. Janeane Garofalo is the other half, stripped of her wonderful biting wit but still holding on to her dignity.
"Dog Park" tries to pass itself off as witty, bitter pill of relationship wisdom, but McCulloch's script has no zing, pep or vivre to keep the audience interested. As a greenhorn director there's nothing he can do to punch it up, either. It becomes clear very quickly that the guy doesn't even know where to place his camera.
With a script doctor on call and a more experienced hand holding the reins, something might have been made of dark (and light) humor hiding within this story. A breakup comedy is not a bad idea in itself, and most of the actors look like they're just itching for something more.
It's interesting to note that three of this movie's stars have better roles in other pictures out right now. Wilson is in "Blue Streak" opposite Martin Lawrence, Garofalo befriends a small town serial killer in "The Minus Man," and Robertson plays an adorable but shallow sex kitten in the so-so "Splendor."