Best in Show

Dog shows are easy fodder for mockery. Prior to Best in Show, the best send-up of a dog show took place at the Westminster Dog Show, with Robert Smigel's Triumph the Insult Comic Dog's appearances on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. While Smigel's sketches were profane and sarcastic, Christopher Guest's Best in Show takes everything seriously, reveling in the basic ridiculousness of the entire matter. Guest is the same person behind such classic mockumentaries as This is Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman. All three movies focus on the inherent inaneness of ordinary man. Stick them in front of a camera and let them speak, and they will inevitably say something stupid.

Best in Show is also remarkable considering the script. Guest and Eugene Levy (American Pie, Made to Love Her) wrote the basic plot of the film, but most of the dialogue is the result of improvisation. Many of the film's stars appeared in Spinal Tap and Guffman, and are masters of comic improvisation. The fact that the dogs get to perform makes thing even funnier. Their reactions are clearly not in any script, and the actors must deal with whatever happens while they are ad-libbing. The first part of Best in Show introduces five couples. Gerry (Levy) and Cookie Fleck (Catherine O'Hara, Home Fries, Last Night) hope their Norwich Terrier Winky can win. The Flecks are clearly out of their element. They are a suburban middle class family, seemingly trapped in bad taste. Harlan Pepper (Guest) from North Carolina is bringing his Bloodhound Hubert.

High-strung yuppie couple Hamilton (Michael Hitchcock, Breakers, Happy, Texas) and Meg (Parker Posey, You've Got Mail, Henry Fool) are bringing Beatrice, their Weimeraner, and trophy wife Sherri Ann Ward Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge, American Pie, A Night at the Roxbury) and handler Christy Cummings (Jane Lynch, What Planet Are You From?, The Fugitive) have their two time champion poodle Rhapsody in White. The last couple spotlighted is Scott Donlan (John Michael Higgins, Wag the Dog, G.I. Jane) and Stefan Vanderhoof (Michael McKean, Teaching Mrs. Tingle, Mystery, Alaska) and their Shih Tzu, Miss Agnes. The spotlighted couples are diverse, which allows Guest and company to skewer all sorts of stereotypes. There are lines and situations touching upon things like canine ESP, two Starbucks across the street from each other, a man with two left feet (literally), plenty of other memorable, laugh-out loud, bizarre happenings in the contestants' world.

Things slow down after the mass introductions, but once the fictional Mayflower Dog Show begins, the humor rises to another level. This is almost all solely due to Fred Willard (Idle Hands, Permanent Midnight). Willard plays Buck Laughlin, one of the commentators. Laughlin should be announcing football games instead of dog shows. Nearly everything he says is completely inappropriate, from mocking judges and dogs asking strange questions. He obviously has little to no knowledge about dog shows. Willard's performance is masterful, but this in no way should disparage the performances of the other actors. Their resumes list an impressive list of comedy troupes including the Groundlings, Second City and Saturday Night Live. Aside from his hilarious comments, the Mayflower Dog Show actually looks realistic; like something that could be on a cable station. The movie is only an hour and a half, which bring up the point - what did Guest leave out? It took him over fifteen years before releasing a vastly expanded Spinal Tap DVD. Hopefully, he won't take nearly as long with Best in Show.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 29 minutes, Rated PG-13 for language and sex-related material.

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