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Sleeping Dogs
cast: Melinda Page Hamilton, Bryce Johnson, Colby French, Bonita Friedericy, and Brian Plotnick

writer and director: Bobcat Goldthwait

87 minutes (18) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Michael Bunning
Amy's got a secret. Once, inexplicably, when she was 18, in college, bored and curious, she gave her dog a blowjob. She's not into bestiality at all, she tells us. She was immediately full of guilt about it. She's never done it again. She never intends to do it again. And she's never told anyone. It's her deep, dark secret; and she'd like it to stay that way. There's a small problem, though. Her boyfriend proposes to her, and says that people who are getting married shouldn't have secrets from each other. He'd like to know her deep, dark secret.

At first glance, Sleeping Dogs seems like a highly tasteless version of the normal, formulaic romantic comedy: bestiality aside, you might expect the plot to be fairly predictable: boy wants girl to tell secret. Girl tells boy. Boy reacts badly. The wedding is off. A third-act reconciliation sees everything happily ever after. Luckily, writer-director Goldthwait isn't interested in making a tasteless version of something we've seen before. For one thing, it's remarkably tasteful: bestiality doesn't feature in this film at all, except for one brief scene at the beginning (off-camera, obviously). And the rom-com formula doesn't hold true either, because this isn't really a romantic comedy (though it's being marketed as one). What it is, however, is a black comedy examining the nature of secrets: why we keep them and whether we should ever be completely honest.

Having said that this isn't a rom-com, it should also be said that some of the rom-com formula remains. Amy's fiancé John (Bryce Johnson) accompanies her to her parents' house for a long weekend in a decidedly 'meet the parents' sequence, and it's there that the truth comes out. As expected, he can't handle knowing Amy's secret, despite having badgered her relentlessly about it. But that's almost an afterthought to this section of the film. What it's really about is showing the rather large cracks in the fa´┐Żade of Amy's perfect family. Her strait-laced shy mother has a secret of her own, as does her brother and her father. One by one, Amy discovers them all, and through her, the viewer realises that lying just beneath the surface of even the 'best' people is plenty of guilt and resentment.

Luckily, this is also the funniest section of the film, and the dark underside of Amy's family (and by extension, the viewers) is handled lightly and with a surprisingly deft touch. The cast are fantastic here: restrained and understated (some might say repressed), but more than able to elicit belly laughs from the audience. If the rest of the film were as enjoyable as this sequence (which lasts until a little before halfway through the movie), Sleeping Dogs would be a must-see film for everyone. Unfortunately, once the movie leaves the family home, the pacing falls off, as does the comedy. The film has a fairly slender running time of about an hour and a half, but it feels like at least two hours. The question of how much of yourself to share with those closest to you stays front and centre, though, and when comedy is replaced by drama, Goldthwait explores that question with surprisingly touching results.

There's no easy answer by the end of the film, either. Amy decides that, for her, her canine misadventure will stay locked in her past from now on; but a little more honesty would have helped her family to survive its troubles better. Sleeping Dogs ultimately doesn't manage to live up to its potential, with perhaps not quite enough pace or laughs to last the full 87 minutes, but it's very rare to see a movie that asks fundamental questions in the way this one does, and even rarer not to be left with a saccharine, readymade answer; and for that it should be applauded.

The DVD extras on offer here are fairly thin on the ground, but that's not very surprising for a film that was made (according to Goldthwait) as something that he was only going to show to his friends. There's a short interview with Bobcat Goldthwait and Melinda Page Hamilton, a trailer and a director's commentary.

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