Kicking the DogReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 03/31/09 13:49:21
If there’s one thing a sexed-up gross-out comedy has to be - aside from funny, that is - it has to be completely comfortable with its own raunch. It must never flinch, it must never back off.In his homemade indie comedy “Kicking the Dog,” writer/director Randy “Scoot” Lammey (note to Lammey: drop the “Scoot” next time) aims for Kevin Smithian frankness in his characters, who gleefully discuss the most intimate details of their most adventurous sexual histories. But listen to the dialogue. These are recent college graduates and the closest of friends, yet there’s always a pause before mentioning body parts. A consensus seems to be reached on the word “wiener,” although every now and then an actual “penis” gets through.
Why are these people talking like they’re seven years old? Are they genuinely squeamish in mentioning such personal things? Hardly: once you’ve had a good laugh about someone using mayo as a lubricant, and once you’ve told tales of threesomes where you and your buddy have seen each others’ man parts in all their full-mast glory, you’re probably comfortable with the vocabulary of sex, at least among close friends. Indeed, one of the guys takes a summer job at a porn shop; one assumes that once you’ve sold sex toys in bulk, you’ve learned a couple more euphemisms to use.
Could Lammey be using the word “wiener” as some sort of shortcut that reveals his characters to be emotionally immature? I’d like to think so, but again, it’s not likely. A handful of high school seniors are added into the story as a sort of counterpoint - they're young virgins ignorant of sex, hoping to score, clumsy saps compared with the sexually mature twentysomethings they admire. While the script doesn’t shy from presenting its young adults as complete jerks, it never asks us to see them as puerile folks unable to handle the sexual world they’ve entered. By all accounts, these people have a pretty good lock on their healthy sex lives, even if some of them might be a bit too obsessed with it. (At that age, who isn’t?)
My best guess is that Lammey was aiming for the comedy of stark honesty, inspired by Kevin Smith and “American Pie,” but wound up balking at awkward times. And so we get a movie that wants to have many conversations about the male sex organ, yet can’t persuade itself to actually use the terminology. Even the actors look unsure, with all those pauses in front of “wiener” and “penis” and “little thing.”
This is a major problem for a movie where sex is on the mind all the way through. The story involves a group of friends, fresh out of college, enjoying a week-long getaway at a pal’s house, a sort of “Big Chill” with characters who never separated. Lammey includes (by obligation, considering the under-excited manner in which it’s presented) a plotline about one couple (Jarrod Pistilli and Elizabeth Schmidt) dealing with an impending separation: should he take a job in California, and should she head off to grad school, and will their relationship survive? The rest, though, is a collection of anecdotal scenes where everyone sits around drinking and swapping stories, or drinking and complaining about the opposite sex, or drinking and trying to get laid, or drinking and drinking.
And at times, this works. Clumsy grad school subplot aside, I admire Lammey’s ability to avoid clichéd Screenwriter 101 trappings while still lending the film a sense of structure - the story’s bookended nicely by two lengthy party scenes, while the script never forces character growth or third act crises where they’re not required.
Yet this also demands much of its characters, and they seldom deliver. The young cast lacks the charisma needed to make these anecdotes worth hearing. And there are too many characters here, and most of them are unlikable, but not unlikable enough in an entertaining, interesting way. Most of the guys here are interchangeable: you’ve seen one selfish twit obsessed with breasts, you’ve seen ‘em all. The only real character traits here are found in who’s dating whom; anyone could say most of these lines or make most of these revelations without impacting the story. (The porn shop employee and the sexed-up jerk even look alike.)
Lammey also stumbles in his attempts to present sexist male characters without making the movie sexist. These are men who admit their confusion over women - not just the virgins, but the older guys, too. They’re frustrated that women are so hard to please sexually or emotionally. Lammey tries to let the women share their side (one scene relies on that old gimmick of showing the men and women complaining about the same things, from different rooms and different viewpoints), but the women wind up being just as shallow; to them, it’s all about penis size or how to handle bodily fluids. Late in the film, a teen girl is presented as being “the coolest person I know” not because she’s smart or interesting, but because she likes doing kegstands and acting like a dude.
I’d wager that most of this is accidental, and that Lammey isn’t really drowning in misogyny. But there’s not enough here that keeps the selfish attitudes of his characters from looking stupid. A movie like this needs a more down-to-earth character to act as a comparison for the jerkier, Stifler-ier types on display, but even the nicest guy here gets drawn into the “man, what’s up with women and their stupid needs?” thing too easily.
As the film progresses, the script does pick up a cozier tone that gets us more involved with the characters, and the cast gets more assured in their performances. The final few scenes here have a welcome sweetness to them that suggest Lammey might have more success on his next effort. But it’s too late to salvage the whole of the film, which winds up as little more than bland, uncomfortable Kevin Smith lite.
UPDATE: I received an email from Lammey, who explains the whole “wiener” thing. He writes:
“The "wiener" dialog isn't meant to be "12 year old" humor, like "he said wiener". And I know you think 22 year olds would have a more developed vocabulary, but that's my point. By the time I was in college, I was through saying "cock, dick, fuck, shit", unless I was playing sports, mad, or only around guys in a "crude" environment. When we were laughing, partying and having a good time with girls, we said "wiener" because it could still be funny without being crude. I guess I believed it made discussing anal sex somewhat acceptable, and funny, rather than crude, in a mixed crowd.
“Maybe college students will understand it. If not, I'm screwed!”
So there you have it. I’m not sure it works - I think a movie like “Kicking the Dog” needs words like “cock” and “dick” to sell the characters - but at least I can see what Lammey meant to achieve.A final point, since I’m updating: Lammey shot and edited this film all on his own, about as independently as you can get. For someone who admits to not even knowing how to work an editing program when he started making his movie, it’s an impressive feat to see what he’s done here. “Kicking the Dog” may be flawed, but it’s also a good first step. Here’s to looking forward to see how he improves next time.
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