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"BEST IN SHOW"
(2000) (Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy/Mockumentary: Various dog owners prepare for the Mayflower Dog Show in this mockumentary about how far people will go to win through their pets.
PLOT:
It's time for the annual Mayflower Dog Show and various canine owners and fanatics across the country are preparing for the big event and traveling to Philadelphia. Among them are yuppie Illinois lawyers Meg (PARKER POSEY) and Hamilton Swan (MICHAEL HITCHCOCK), who are about as uptight as one could imagine, worrying both about the competition and the effects that their sex life has on Beatrice, their Weimaraner.

Then there's Gerry (EUGENE LEVY) and Cookie Fleck (CATHERINE O'HARA) from Fern City, Florida. Driving up the east coast with their Norwich Terrier, Winky, they encounter various past lovers of Cookie's, few of which Gerry was previously aware. From Pine Nut, North Carolina comes Harlan Pepper (CHRISTOPHER GUEST), a charming fly fishing shop owner, and his Bloodhound, Hubert.

Longtime New York gay couple Scott Donlan (JOHN MICHAEL HIGGINS) and Stefan Vanderhoof (MICHAEL McKEAN) have high hopes for their Shih Tzu, Agnes, that Scott has trained, while the wealthy, but elderly Leslie Cabot (PATRICK CRANSHAW) and his young trophy wife Sherri Ann (JENNIFER COOLIDGE) believe that their Standard Poodle, Rhapsody In Blue, will keep the reigning championship crown due to the efforts of their trainer, Christy Cummings (JANE LYNCH).

With everyone arriving in Philly where a hotel manager (ED BEGLEY, JR.) does everything in his power to accommodate them, Dr. Theodore W. Millbank III (BOB BALABAN) the earnest president of the Mayflower Kennel Club and the show's chairman, Graham Chissolm (DON LAKE), open the competition. As TV commentators Buck Laughlin (FRED WILLARD) and Trevor Beckwith (JIM PIDDOCK) call the event, the various contestants and their dogs do their best to win their individual categories and then compete for the big prize.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
In the world of filmmaking, documentaries are the Rodney Dangerfields of the cinema. While the critics often love such films and there's even a special Academy Award just for their field, few people actually see them, thus proving that they just don't get any respect.

Perhaps that's because they're a dime a dozen on TV nowadays, what with the Discovery Channel, the Learning Channel, etc. that collectively show a plethora of programming designed to examine, probe and detail most every aspect of our lives and the world and universe in which we live. As such, few documentaries make to the big screen each year and when they do, it's usually only in the art house venues.

What's taken their place - at least to some degree - and earned a bit more respect among moviegoers are the "mockumentaries," comedies that are designed to mimic the look and feel of such documentaries, but without a serious bone to be found in their celluloid bodies.

Probably the best known and best overall -- for that matter - such film is Rob Reiner's hilarious "This Is Spinal Tap," the 1984 fictitious, backstage look at a bunch of aging hair farmers, um, long-haired rock and rollers. Among those portraying the various band members was Christopher Guest, who obviously enjoyed the format and experience so much that he then went on to write, direct and star in "Waiting For Guffman," a faux and rather funny documentary about some small town locals putting on a musical to celebrate their town's anniversary.

Guest has now returned with yet another such mockumentary, "Best in Show," an amusing look at the serious fanaticism that surrounds canine competitions such as the Westminster Dog Show. Once again assuming the triadic role of writer, director and performer, Guest's story follows a series of twosomes - okay, threesomes if you include their pooches - as they prepare for, discuss, travel to and then compete in the fictitious Mayflower Dog Show.

Much like the stage mothers and fathers who try to achieve the success, fame and/or adoration they could never personally attain by supporting, entering and/or pushing their kids into beauty pageants and the like, those who do so with their dogs (their "surrogate kids") are quite serious and passionate about their goal.

As such, Guest has fashioned an amusing, but not always satirically biting look at a cross-section of such people, some of which own dogs that represent or contrast their personalities and others who are just plain off kilter to varying degrees.

One of the funnier pairings regards the characters played by Eugene Levy ("American Pie," "Father of the Bride") - who co-wrote the screenplay with Guest -- and Catherine O'Hara ("Beetlejuice," the first two "Home Alone" films) as a happily married, if somewhat incongruous couple. He has two left feet - literally - and an oafish disposition while her adventurously amorous past comes out during the film. While that makes their pairing a bit more contrived than genuine, the results are still rather funny as he progressively learns of her past.

Guest ("A Few Good Men," "The Princess Bride") appears as a Southern good ol' boy and completely disappears into his charming character, while Parker Posey ("You've Got Mail," "The House of Yes") and Michael Hitchcock ("Happy, Texas," "Waiting For Guffman") provide the polar opposite impression as a constantly uptight and bickering couple who often teeter along the line of being more annoying than actually funny.

Least satisfying of the pairings is a lesbian development between the characters played by Jennifer Coolidge ("American Pie," "A Night at the Roxbury") and Jane Lynch ("What Planet Are You From?" "The Fugitive"), not because of the lesbian angle, but simply because their whole subplot isn't that interesting. More successful is the pairing of "Spinal Tap" alum Michael McKean ("The Brady Bunch," TV's "Laverne and Shirley") and John Michael Higgins ("Wag the Dog," "G.I. Jane") as a gay couple from New York.

The true scene stealers, however, are Fred Willard ("Idle Hands," "Waiting for Guffman") as a boorish TV color commentator who doesn't think or care about what he says and Jim Piddock ("Independence Day," "Multiplicity") as his horrified but always restrained and proper broadcasting partner. Since the humor pretty much dries up regarding the other characters during the actual competition that finishes out the film (that's about as exciting as the real thing), Willard is given the duty off pulling up the comic slack and he does a great job, perfectly delivering some of the film's best verbal humor.

Overall, the results - while near always amusing - don't manage to reach the levels of hilarity as often as they should or as much as most viewers will probably wish. Part of that's because the various characterizations of the individual characters rarely delves much deeper than the superficial level, thus leaving a potential gold mine of material untapped and many of the characters simply repeating their comic shtick that loses a bit of its punch after its introduction (although the degree of that varies from character to character).

It's not a horrible cinematic crime and most viewers will probably enjoy the proceedings at least on some level or another. Nonetheless, the film isn't anything spectacular and it's certainly not as funny or clever as "This Is Spinal Tap" as far as mockumentaries are concerned. Cute and amusing enough to earn a bit more than a passing grade, however, "Best in Show" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed September 11, 2000 / Posted October 13, 2000


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