The Dog Problem (2006) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for language, sexual content, and nudity
Running time: 89 min.

Cast: Giovanni Ribisi, Scott Caan, Lynn Collins, Mena Suvari, Sarah Shahi, Kevin Corrigan, Don Cheadle, TIto Ortiz, Melissa Keller, Joanna Krupa
Director: Scott Caan
Screenplay: Scott Caan

Review published July 11, 2007

There's a big problem at the heart of writer-director-costar Scott Cann's film and that is the titular dog itself.  Well, maybe it's not the dog (some might say the dog is the only appealing character in the film), but the use of it as a thematic crutch that's the real problem.  In the film, we're supposed to accept the odd fact that the protagonist would get a dog, and that people he owes money to are willing to not only accept the dog as payment for money  loaned, but that they are also down to fight for it.  Granted, this is a comedy, and meant to be an amusing wrinkle in this quirky story, but it is indicative of a major flaw in the production of this film, and that is that there really wasn't much of a script or story direction chosen before they started rolling film.

Giovanni Ribisi (10th & Wolf, The Big White) plays Solo, a 30s-ish writer stuck in a rut.  He's been seeing a shrink (Cheadle, Ocean's Twelve) for over a year and can't afford to continue.  His lack of funds has resulted in him owing some disreputable characters out to collect.  He can't write, he can barely still function.  His psychiatrist suggests to him on his last day that he should look into getting a pet.  Solo takes home a scruffy little pooch, but struggles to come to terms with what to do with it.  At a dog park is where he meets Lola (Collins, Bug), a woman who ends up loaning him money, but they soon form a sort of friendship when they run into each other later.  With a dog to care for and a potential new lady friend in his life, he begins to open up to new possibilities, although the seedy underworld is itching to bang down his door, and they want something he is unwilling to give up -- his dog.

Given the fact that much of the dialogue is improvised, there is a certain unevenness to this comedy, primarily because the actors, while gifted comedic performers when the roles are right, aren't really improvisational comedians.  Caan (Lonely Hearts, Into the Blue), who ironically has a writer who doesn't know how to write at the center of his story, provides the scenarios, while the thespians do what they can to seem natural, but all the while, they always appear to be laboring to be funny on top of having to come up with fresh lines to get them in and out of the scene.  It also doesn't help that the characters are almost unanimously annoying, while likeable actors appear perplexed on how to keep the energy up when there isn't a clear cut object in mind to the film.

Caan's directorial decisions fare better than his writing, and, if anything, The Dog Problem does benefit from choice music selection, good cinematography, editing, and a kick-ass opening credits sequence by Howard Nourmand that produces the characters of the film emanating out of Rorschach inkblots.  With all of the lack of focus to the film, there are stretches where it seems like Caan has a concept or theme in his grasp, particularly in scenes between Ribisi and co-star Collins, where they look like two different people who aren't quite altogether there in terms of security, but they open up to each other in ways they've only just begun to realize.  Sadly, the dog rears its ugly head all too often, which means the dumb, faux-hip humor is sure to follow,

The Dog Problem ultimately will only be of interest to lovers of mildly effective semi-romantic comedy independent features, the kinds of which you'd find at most respectable film festivals.  Films about blocked writers, strippers with hearts of gold, and bantering hitmen are nothing new in films, leaving Caan's effort feeling like a mish-mash of modern comedy clichés that never gels into a thoughtful entity of its own.  It's not cohesive enough to reel most others in, and without any big laughs to be had, it's nothing more than a hit-and-miss innocuous exploration of one man's self-realization while dealing with the oddballs in the Southern California lifestyle. 

Qwipster's rating:

©2007 Vince Leo