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How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog
from Film Forum, 02/28/02

Okay, How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog isn't really about death or killing. It's about a wisecracking cynic (Kenneth Branagh) whose writerly imagination entertains a fantasy about killing the pooch next door, a dog that barks incessantly. But slowly an 8-year-old neighbor girl draws him to become a better person.

Mary Draughon (Preview) described the movie as "a lesson in how a casual remark can have serious consequences." But she gives it a thumbs-down, saying it "self-destructs with gratuitous, graphic sexual conversations and filthy language."

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat (Spirituality and Health) call it "an acerbic comedy that cleverly depicts the spiritual turnaround of this jaded and temperamental playwright. Neighbor's Dog turns out to be a surprising drama about the emptiness of cynicism when stacked up against the bounties of compassion."

Stanley Kauffmann (The New Republic) finds it inexcusably empty: "To say that the story reaches no conclusion, never explains why it exists, is to compliment its nullity. Branagh is flavorless in a script for which he was to supply the flavors."

Flick Filosopher MaryAnn Johanson says the film is occasionally too absurd, but decides that "Branagh redeems it, keeping the film grounded in the wonderful, schizophrenic reality of a man desperately scrambling to maintain his cynicism only to find that letting it go isn't so bad after all."

Stephen Holden (The New York Times) says the film "reminds us that when it comes to comedy, it's all in the writing. Mr. Kalesniko's satirically barbed screenplay … stirs up an insistent verbal energy that rarely flags. The jokes are attached to a story that throws in several original screwball twists." But he predicts that its stand-out qualities may be too un-sentimental for viewers: "Audiences conditioned to getting weepy over saucer-eyed, downy-cheeked moppets and their empathetic caretakers will probably feel emotionally cheated by the film's tart, sugar-free wit."