A blocked writer looks to a pet for solace, but finds a procession of Los Angeles oddballs instead, in the mildly funny "The Dog Problem." Effort from actor-director Scott Caan is a distinct change of pace, reining in the testosterone of 2003's "Dallas 362" in favor of a moderately more benevolent worldview. Pic could ride Caan's acting cache to select theatrical dates, but feels more like a fest attraction and DVD distraction.

A blocked writer looks to a pet for solace, but finds a procession of Los Angeles oddballs instead, in the mildly funny yet off-puttingly mannered romantic comedy “The Dog Problem.” Sophomore helming effort from actor-director Scott Caan is a distinct change of pace, reining in the testosterone of 2003’s “Dallas 362″ in favor of a moderately more benevolent worldview that still can’t quite mask that certain self-centeredness hovering about these lonely and broken hipsters. Pic could ride Caan’s acting cache and hometown status to select theatrical dates, but feels more like a fest attraction and DVD distraction.

Flat broke after a year paying for therapy sessions with his maddeningly cryptic shrink, Dr. Normand (Don Cheadle, uncredited), the appropriately named Solo Harrington (Giovanni Ribisi) is initially reluctant when the doc recommends he get a dog for companionship and inspiration.

Under the watchful eye of womanizing photog buddy Casper (Caan), Solo hits the pet store at the Beverly Center but, when his chum is distracted by a pretty girl, chooses a scrawny little something-or-other that he promptly hates so much he refuses even to name it.

After trying to unload the mutt on Casper’s rich, Paris Hilton-type pal Jules (Mena Suvari), the confused Solo begins to bond with the animal and refuses to hand it over to pay off loans he owes local enforcer Benny (Kevin Corrigan).

Meeting stripper Lola (Lynn Collins) at L.A.’s famous Dog Park marks the beginning of a new chapter in Solo’s life.

“It sucks to care about something” is about as deep as the script gets, with matters not helped by that annoying brand of mannered, breathy, slang-laced stuttering that passes these days for vocal delivery. Pic is so tooled with an eye on today’s marketplace that its ending steals liberally from the open-ended fadeout of “Sideways.”

Endlessly watchable young actor Ribisi continues to search for the part that will match his quirky energy, while Collins displays an innate understanding of comedic timing. Caan, son of actor James Caan, here sports a swagger and high-haired ‘do that calls to mind a live-action Johnny Bravo, while the always-dependable Corrigan steals his scenes as the short-tempered loan shark.

Tech credits are fine, highlighted by an utterly charming climactic sequence explaining what the dog did when it disappeared in the late reels. Pic is pushed along nicely by the driving rock stylings of former Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh.

The Dog Problem

Production

A Thousand Words production. (International sales: UTA, Beverly Hills.) Produced by Jonah Smith, Palmer West. Co-producers, Jesse Johnston, Stephanie Lewis. Directed, written by Scott Caan.

Crew

Camera (color), Phil Parmet; editor, Jeff Werner; music, Mark Mothersbaugh; music supervisor, Amanda Scheer Demme; production designer, Corey Lorenzen; set decorator, Missy Parker; costume designer, Rebecca Bentjen; sound, Pavel Wdowczak; assistant director, Jim Simone; casting, Emily Schweber, Jennifer Levy. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentation), Sept. 12, 2006. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Giovanni Ribisi, Lynne Collins, Scott Caan, Mena Suvari, Don Cheadle, Kevin Corrigan, Jimmy the Dog.

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