An admittedly autobiographical piece about an incurable womanizer, "Jack the Dog" is cursed by a total lack of perspective on the title character's obsessive behavior. Highly personal nature of the low-budgeter indicates a continued life on the fest circuit, but lukewarm response at Sundance suggests steep road ahead in any commercial arena.

An admittedly autobiographical piece by Bobby Roth about an incurable womanizer, “Jack the Dog” is fatally cursed by a total lack of perspective on the title character’s obsessive behavior exhibited by either the hump-happy human canine or the filmmaker. Highly personal nature of the digitally shot low-budgeter indicates a continued life on the fest circuit, but lukewarm response at Sundance suggests steep road ahead in any commercial arena.

As demonstrated by practitioners from Moliere and Lubitsch to Warren Beatty and Woody Allen, compulsive seduction is usually best dramatized in comic terms. Roth seems to recognize that his surrogate has all the requisite neuroses — domineering mother complex, Peter Pan syndrome, inability to commit or be faithful, no self-control — to warrant a certain degree of humorous ridicule. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the chops as a comic writer, or the cast, to pull off this approach, nor does he view Jack’s increasingly tiresome and repetitive shenanigans from any artistic remove; a frantic, disorderly life is served up in entirely undigested, unmediated form, evincing a frustrating absence of a point of view on the part of its creator.

“So many babes, so little time,” would fit very nicely as Jack’s lament, as the good-looking photographer (Nestor Carbonell) recounts his attempt to change his philandering ways by marrying Faith (Barbara Williams) and having a son, Sam. Frustrated upon realizing that fatherhood translates into less sex, he soon reverts to his old ways, starting a downward spiral that leads to divorce and a bitter custody battle that, to his delight, results in Sam (Andrew J. Ferchland) remaining with him in L.A. when Faith moves to London and remarries.

As Jack plows through countless women (mostly quite young and sexy, which helps pass the time) while juggling chauffeuring and cooking duties for his son and trying to keep his career afloat, he never advances a step in regard to self-awareness; his idea of reflection is to admit, “I found myself going through life utterly befuddled by the actions of women.” For someone completely addicted to the opposite sex, this is pretty feeble, and it certainly doesn’t give the film any weight. If he’s not going to grow up, it would seem that he should just relax and enjoy his hedonistic nature rather than keep struggling with it.

Because both Jack and Faith are unsympathetic (she is painted as an all-out bitch), even the most agonizing family issues regarding Sam’s fate and emotional well-being convey little pain. The generally flat attempts at comedy reach an embarrassing nadir when, after Jack’s mother dies, Dad takes Sam coffin shopping.

Tale, which lurches along with little sense of pacing or time elapsed, has plenty of niggling problems: Why does Jack, otherwise so devoted to very young women, marry someone noticeably older? Why was an actor cast as the son who looks so radically unlike those playing the parents? Why is Jurgen Prochnow, as Faith’s new hubby, made to look so ridiculous with bleached blond hair? Couldn’t a single interesting line have been given to the Tony Roberts-like sounding-board character who listens to Jack’s woes at a booth at El Coyote?

Performances, from the handsome Carbonell (TV’s “Suddenly Susan”) to those of Williams as the rhinoceros-hided wife and the many actresses in for literally quickies, are energetic but no more illuminating than the dialogue as to the inner life of their characters.

Visual quality of the picture, which was shot on digital video and transferred to widescreen 35mm, is adequate but no more. The decidedly unerotic sex scenes are of the vigorously R-rated variety.

Jack the Dog

Production

A Jung N Restless production. Produced by Bobby Roth, Jeffrey White, Jack Baran, Margie Glick. Directed, written by Bobby Roth.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color/B&W, DV-to-35mm; widescreen), Georg Fick; editor, Margaret Guinee; music, Christopher Franke; production designer, Dins Danielson; costume designer, Mary Malin; sound designer, Zoli Osaze; associate producer, Nick Roth; assistant director, Jack Baran; casting, Brennan Du Fresne. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 22, 2001. Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Jack the Dog - Nestor Carbonell Faith - Barbara Williams Sam - Andrew J. Ferchland Buddy - Travis Fine Rose - Micole Mercurio Hope - Elizabeth Barondes Rita X - Carole Raphaelle Davis Angel - Lauren Tom Estella - Grey Delisle Alfred Stieglitz - Peter Coyote Faith's Attorney - Thomas Gibson Jack's Attorney - Anthony LaPaglia Klaus - Jurgen Prochnow Simon - Barry Newman
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