A miraculously evenhanded treatment of a snarlingly divisive debate, "Your Mommy Kills Animals" tries to bring the animal-rights issue to heel, and there aren't enough muzzles to go around. There are no good guys or bad guys in this propulsive film, but there's enough in the way of odd characters and bad behavior to amuse and inform auds who only marginally care about the content. A theatrical release seems as obvious as a pit bull, with meaty ancillary prospects lying in wait.

A miraculously evenhanded treatment of a snarlingly divisive debate, “Your Mommy Kills Animals” tries to bring the animal-rights issue to heel, and there aren’t enough muzzles to go around. There are no good guys or bad guys in this propulsive film, but there’s enough in the way of odd characters and bad behavior to amuse and inform auds who only marginally care about the content. A theatrical release seems as obvious as a pit bull, with meaty ancillary prospects lying in wait.

Titling his film after a gore-filled PETA comicbook, helmer Curt Johnson isn’t just reporting on the skirmishes between “bunny huggers” and mustache-twirling medical researchers. He’s examining the internecine battles among people seemingly on the same side: the animal rights’ activists vs. the animal welfare advocates, the shelter operators vs. radical confrontationalists (who set up outside the home of, say, a board member of Bank of America because the bank holds stock in a company owned by a corporation that also oversees a firm that tests mascara on rabbits).

Johnson also gets into the gray matter of moral superiority, allowing the likes of physician Jerry Vlasak to make his case for violence against doctors involved in animal research, but also allowing more temperate voices to ask whether becoming a terrorist organization really helps anyone or anything.

One of the apparent motivations for the film was the FBI’s ranking of animal-rights activists as the nation’s No. 1 domestic terrorism threat. Johnson obliquely addresses the possible political motivations behind such an assessment, but never prosthelytizes either way.

His wide-ranging sources make it pretty clear that blinkered self-righteousness and unwavering belief in one’s cause don’t much differ, whether you’re a member of the Animal Liberation Front or Al Qaeda. The corollary is whether anything less than the most militant action will move corporations away from committing cruelty to animals.

Here there doesn’t seem to be much argument — no one advocates vivisection as a recreational sport. But at the same time, certain seemingly reasonable people do ask whether life as we know it — for diabetics, for instance — would be possible without the medical advances made through animal testing and animal products. Or whether PETA should really be euthanizing approximately 85% of the animals they “rescue.” Or whether “people-hating’ is really part of the animal controversy (“We all hate people,” quips author P.J. O’Rourke). In the end, it’s a legal, ethical and moral minefield through which Johnson skips nimbly.

Widescreen HD lensing is beautiful, putting a clear sheen on a cloudy issue.

Your Mommy Kills Animals

Production

An Indie Genius Prods. presentation. (International sales: Vagrant Films Canada Distribution.) Produced by Curt Johnson. Executive producers, Earl Easley, John P. Hamilton, Nathan Deal, Dennis Banks. Directed, written by Curt Johnson.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen, HD video), Anthony Rodriguez; editor, Greg Browning; music supervisor, Johnson; sound, David Canada; sound, Darin Heinis, Tom Lindquist; associate producers, Shane Barbi, Sia Barbi. Reviewed at Hot Docs Film Festival, Toronto, April 23, 2007. Running time: 106 MIN.

With

Paul Watson, David Martosko, Jerry Vlasak, Bo Derek, Dana Harris, Joss Stone, P.J. O'Rourke, Christopher Hitchens.
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