Even as light romantic comedies go, Dog Park takes one bland, maundering stroll. The film does have a thesis, though, and a sweet, earnestly presented thesis to boot— that the love missing or fraught in the average single thirtysomething’s life can find ready, partial compensation in the unconditional dumb love of your dog. And, as it turns out, Taylor Dayne was wrong— it’s not love that leads you back, but Fido, since you’ll meet Mr./Ms. Right at the puppy run in the park, or reconcile with an ex at the dog psychiatrist after you’ve decided that your co-custody, Sparky, has absorbed your shared angst.
Cute, but Dog Park— a cluttered ensemble piece that pivots on Luke Wilson’s beleaguered serial monogamist and his circle of romantically challenged, dog-owner friends— stays pinned to the grass by its contrived whimsy. The throwaway one-liners (“Love is not your scuba buddy”) sound as if they should be funny, but never amount to anything more than tossed-off absurdity; the performances are similarly offhand (the invaluable Janeane Garofalo is an exception as a deludedly blithe, betrayed girlfriend, but must she martyr herself in every movie?). Writer, director, and supporting player Bruce McCulloch cut his teeth on sketch comedy with Kids in the Hall, and Dog Park has the feel of skits scrawled out on bar napkins and tacked together (he even regurgitates two old Kids bits). Isolated triumphs of wordplay emerge— the dog shrink delivers an impassioned soliloquy on his craft; a couple engages in a reasoned, circular discussion about whether they should go out to dinner or have sex first— but the rest looks like landfill. McCulloch, last seen in Dick, seems like a pretty clever guy; since flogging Carl Bernstein used to be Nora Ephron’s job, one hopes that McCulloch isn’t doomed to deliver formulaic, slapdash Comedy Lite for the rest of his days, but right now the odds look long.
If Dog Park is a series of moments that don’t quite add up to a movie, then the German release Bandits— a confusingly edited music-video hodgepodge concerning a gang of female convicts who form a rock band in jail and later break out, driving across country while their demo tape becomes a radio sensation— is a movie embodying a single, indelible moment. Think of that scene from Light of Day that VH-1 uses to promote Rock ‘n’ Roll Picture Show, the one where Joan Jett turns to Michael J. Fox, her lips jutting and sneering, and intones, “Music is all that matters.” Mike stares at her quizzically, shaking his Flock of Seagulls mane but still willing to Believe. Rest assured that the runaways in Bandits retain a firm hold on their faith, as well as— it would seem— a prison hairdresser (perhaps the stylist employed in Brokedown Palace) and a wardrobe consultant once they hit the road. Joan Jett wouldn’t have had to tell these girls anything, but she might have hit them up for some cash.