The laughs come from Kenneth Branagh, who's very funny as the curmudgeonly Peter McGowan, a renowned, critically acclaimed playwright fallen on hard times and poor boxoffice. His problems are exacerbated by the pressure put upon him by his wife (Robin Wright Penn), who wants kids, which he couldn't care less about. And his attempts to fix up his latest production are being jeopardized by his neighbor's noisy dog, who's keeping him awake at night.
Don't worry, McGowan doesn't kill the dog, nor does he stand fast in his determination to resist his wife's plea for children. In fact, he learns to like them when he befriends a mildly handicapped little girl (Suzi Hofrichter) who moves in next door. It seems that only the Farrelly brothers can get away with killing animals onscreen. As for hating children, that's a taboo that Americans simply won't challenge.
"How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog" wants to make nice so, despite a few barbed jokes at the expense of McGowan's mother-in-law (a wonderfully dotty Lynn Redgrave) and the genuinely sharp sequences interspersed throughout the film in which McGowan goes head-to-head with a semi-vacuous morning talk show host (Peri Gilpin of TV's "Frasier"), the film pulls back from drawing blood. In fact, the gags about the dog are pretty much dropped when Peter meets the man (Jared Harris) who's been impersonating him around the neighborhood. Their interplay is quite dull and indicative of director Michael Kalesniko's inability to sustain a comedic mood.
If you think that jokes about vapid L.A. life are courageous, then this film's for you. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Robin Wright Penn and Jared Harris. Directed and written by Michael Kalesniko. Produced by Michael Nozik, Nancy M. Ruff and Brad Weston. A Millennium release. Comedy. Not yet rated. Running time: 108 min.