Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Enough said

Sleeping Dogs Lie

on October 20, 2006 by Mark Keizer
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The first scene of Bobcat Goldthwait's Sleeping Dogs Lie is exactly what you'd expect from the director of Shakes the Clown. The rest of the film is exactly the opposite of what you'd expect from the director of Shakes the Clown. The story of a 26-year-old woman whose life falls apart after her deepest, darkest secret comes to light contains more messy truths than most mainstream romantic comedies. The film is a bit surprising because Goldthwait is trying something that is, at times, completely serious and is, at times, pretty effective. But the project is poorly served by the former standup comic's indifferent direction, while his pocket-change budget has production-wide ramifications.

The opening comedic salvo may be necessary, but it temporarily confirms our worst suspicions of why Goldthwait wanted to make this movie. Amy (Melissa Page Hamilton) is a sweet and normal college girl who, in a moment of boredom and insanity, performs oral sex on her dog. The act is witnessed only by Amy (and the dog), making it her best-kept, most embarrassing secret and one she is loathe to reveal to anyone. Years later, Amy, now a sweet and normal schoolteacher, accepts a marriage proposal from her straight-arrow fiance John (Bryce Johnson). The couple drives five hours to announce the engagement to Amy's parents, who consider her a flawless jewel of a daughter. Her father (Geoff Pierson) is a stern and humorless sort who protects the household from profanity, lest it offend Amy's virtuous mother (Bonita Friedericy). While at her parent's house, Amy and John steal a romantic moment, during which she reluctantly lets loose her long-ago tale of doggie desire. The admission is overheard by Amy's meth-addicted brother Dougie (Jack Plotnick), who now has the perfect weapon to bring down his supposedly perfect sister.

When Amy's secret is out, Goldthwait is forced to show his hand. Does he want to make a down-and-dirty comedy, a personal drama or both? He chooses an unsteady middle path, as Amy's behavior is considered so disgusting that John begins to question their relationship and her parents feel mortified and betrayed. As everyone backs away from the damaged goods, Amy becomes burdened with regret and embarrassment.

The aftermath of Amy's revelation is conveyed with blunt and simple dialogue and a schematic sense of plotting. Both parents, who each harbor their own secrets, are stock, emotional chess pieces. As Dougie, Plotnick miraculously finds a way to avoid easy laughs. But Goldthwait can't resist the urge to shoehorn in some comic relief, with Brian Posehn playing Dougie's socially awkward drug dealer. The movie strikes low-budget gold with Hamilton, whose committed and sympathetic performance is the primary reason the story maintains credibility. Without her, the film wouldn't have a chance. Colby French is soft and unpolished, but he brings decency to the role of Ed, a fellow schoolteacher who falls for Amy.

There's no way around it, but the movie's modest success is undercut by its micro budget and Goldthwait's pedestrian direction. After three tries, Goldthwait hasn't improved as a director, and there are times when shot composition is merely two characters standing stiffly in the middle of the frame. Its poverty-stricken look manifests itself in the unpleasant hues of a cheaply lit video production. The best behind-the-scenes contribution is by composer Gerald Brunskill. While the vintage tunes are straight from the Woody Allen playbook, Brunskill's accordion-accented score provides some flavor and helps sell the emotional content.

Sleeping Dogs Lie doesn't come down against youthful high jinks. Instead, it comes down against idealizing your loved ones and confirming the importance of maintaining a piece of yourself that is not for public consumption. If one can put aside the absurdity of watching a drama directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, it's easier to admit that, despite the movie's flaws, he may be onto something. Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn
Cast: Melinda Page Hamilton, Bryce Johnson, Colby French, Geoff Pierson, Jack Plotnick and Bonita Friedericy
Director/Screenwriter: Bobcat Goldthwait
Producer: Marty Pasetta Jr.
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Rating: R for strong and aberrant sexual content, drug use and language
Running time: 89 min.
Release date: October 20 NY/LA

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