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review added: 8/7/02



How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog
2000 (2002) - Millennium/Cinerenta/Third Row Center (Artisan)

review by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits

How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C+/C/D

Specs and Features
108 mins, R, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single layered, Amaray keep case package, theatrical trailer, film-themed menus, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: Spanish



"Hollywood doesn't so much want writers, so much as secretaries with a flair for dialogue."

Kenneth Branagh has narrowed his acting range down to two types. One is the great Shakespearean Branagh, where he spouts out classical dialogue. The other is where he basically rants on about everything. In his latest film, Kenneth uses the latter type to great effect, as a writer who's on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But since that title has already been used, I guess it's only obvious to call this film How to Kill You Neighbor's Dog.

Peter McGowen (Branagh), a semi-famous playwright, can't get a break. He's been unsuccessful for the last few years. He's currently working on his new play, and is tormented by his alcoholic producer (Peter Reigert), the flamboyant director (David Krumholtz) and the bad actors. Add to that pressure the failed attempts of his wife (Robin Wright Penn) to get pregnant, a dangerous stalker and a bad case of writer's block. And in the night, the only time he can rest, the neighbor's new dog won't stop barking. Needless to say, Peter is about to go off the deep end.

Enter into the chaos a new neighbor, a recent divorcee who's brought along her emotional baggage and a seven-year-old daughter named Amy (Suzi Hofrichter). Amy suffers from cerebral palsy, and has been reaching out for a friend in the wake of her parent's divorce. Peter, unknowingly, becomes very close to the little girl, and she soon begins to act as a muse for Peter, allowing him to get past the writer's block, deal amicably with the stalker and come to terms with his wife's desire to have a child. But, what is he going to do with that pesky dog?

There are moments where this film reaches absolute hilarity, including a television interview with Peter answering inane questions like, "All your latest plays have failed! Do you think the magic is gone?" Kenneth Branagh owns this movie, as he should. He drinks, he smokes and he spends most of his time ranting on in tirades about the smallest of details like he's the UK version of Woody Allen.

And most of the supporting cast does a very good job. Suzi Hofrichter is perfectly cast as the little girl. David Krumholtz comes off a bit TOO flamboyant at first, but earns your love by the end of the film. And Robin Wright Penn is excellent as Peter's sweet wife, who can trade barbs as well as he can.

There is however some detractors for the film. Too often it gets bogged down in trying to use EVERY joke writer/director Michael Kalesniko can think of. A lot of the material doesn't really work well into the film. And Lynn Redgrave is TOTALLY misused as Peter's invalid mother-in-law.

But even as the film does get a bit long, and the material begins to drag, something new or funny gets swept in to give it new energy. It's a bit unfortunate that the film does feel long in some places, but this is only Kalesniko's first film as a director (he also co-wrote Howard Stern's Private Parts) and some credit should be given. With the film's numerous great moments, I'm sure we'll see more and better out of Kalesniko, and How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog isn't bad for a night's entertainment.

For a film that's practically straight-to-video, the audio and video is good. Video-wise, the transfer is quite clear with only marginal amounts of film grain and no compression artifacts. However, there's an excessive amount of edge enhancement, and my biggest gripe is that it's in cropped full-frame (when it's obvious that it was shot in 1.85:1).

The audio sounds pretty average. The dialogue is clear and the score is balanced. It's only in 2.0, so it's nothing special. Extras are very thin. You get a bad trailer and Spanish subtitles.

If you've pretty much seen everything else at your video store, or if you're looking for something a little different, be sure to check out How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog. It's a surprising little movie that's had the few people I know who've seen it raving about it.

Graham Greenlee
grahamgreenlee@thedigitalbits.com




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