"A Dog's Breakfast" features a good number of cast and crew from the sci-fi TV series "Stargate: Atlantis," who threw together the film on a lark as a way to keep busy during a between-seasons hiatus. But man, what a lark. The comedy, directed and co-written by David Hewlett, is a brutally funny and wickedly smart mix of pitch-black comedy and insane screwball farce, a sort of "Arsenic and Old Lace" gone maniacally modern.
Hewlett stars as Patrick, a decidedly strange obsessive-compulsive (he separates his cereal by color, then eats from six bowls at once) who's stayed behind in the house where he grew up after his parents died. He has no friends, save for his trusty dog Mars (played by Hewlett's own trusty dog, also named Mars); his lone contact with the outside world is his sister, Marilyn (Hewlett's real-life sister, Kate Hewlett), of whom he is overly protective. Imagine his horror, then, when she brings along a surprise: her fiancé, Ryan (Paul McGillion), who's the dopey star of a cheesy sci-fi TV series. (The series is a fun little bone tossed to the "Stargate" fans, although knowledge of that series isn't at all required to enjoy this movie.)
Patrick doesn't like Ryan at all, of course, and a misheard moment leads the recluse to believe Ryan is out to kill Kate. Patrick then schemes to murder Ryan, thus protecting his sister and offing a guy he doesn't much like. But what happens if, by dumb luck, he succeeds?
Shot on a tight budget, "Breakfast" reveals how great comedy is not dependent on cost - put together an intelligent script and a talented cast, and look how solid the results can be. The film is economical, but just not in a monetary sense. The laughs-to-running time ratio is skewed highly in favor of the chuckles, and there's barely a frame wasted. This is an airtight comedy, compact in its setups, sharp with its punchlines, briskly edited to give the whole thing a lightning pace without ever feeling rushed. (In fact, the whole thing plays rather leisurely despite itself.)
We start with a clever script, with Hewlett and co-writer/producer Jane Loughman effortlessly blending solid character work, clever situations, and highly quotable dialogue. ("I like surprises, I just don't like not knowing what they are in advance.") We then move on to Hewlett's knowledgeable direction, which finds all the right beats and gets the most out of each performer while also using the camera to his best advantage; it's tough to believe this is his first time in the director's chair. Then there's the cast, which dances from subdued to over-the-top without batting an eye. Hewlett, a master of wild overreaction and cartoonish screams, steals the show, but his supporters never miss a beat.
This is important, as the story eventually takes us to wilder and wilder places, and while the cast enjoys the sillier aspects of the increasingly sinister plot, they also keep us grounded, letting each joke sell itself without the addition of unnecessary hamminess. They also constantly remind us that the characters are characters worth watching, not plot devices used for hauling out the yuks. The Hewletts and McGillion (they spend much of the movie as a limited ensemble) find the humanity in their roles and use that as the springboard for the comedy, which then gives the laughs an added, much appreciated richness.
Above all, "Breakfast" is smart. It's smart about its characters and it's smart about its humor. Hewlett shows off a brilliant knack for comedy, and it plays through in every shot. This film doesn't merely pay respect to the most memorable dark screwball comedies - it joins their ranks.
Video & Audio
"A Dog's Breakfast" was shot on high-def video, which leaves its anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) presentation here pretty darn sparkling. The image is crisp and clean throughout.
There's not much need for a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack on such a talk-heavy project, but we get one anyway, and that's fine by me. The audio is always clear, nicely mixing dialogue, music (a great score, by the way), and effects. Optional English, Spanish, and French subtitles are offered.
Appearing together for a friendly, fun commentary track are Hewlett, Loughman, producer John Lenic, Mars the dog, and Hewlett's mom. It's a great big family affair and a total joy to hear.
Four featurettes combine to offer a fairly detailed behind-the-scenes look, mixing on-set footage with cast and crew interviews. "Cooking Up A Dog's Breakfast" (6:19) discusses the movie's origins and how it grew from on-the-cheap homemade project for friends to modestly-budgeted all-out movie. "The Cast" (14:56) is the fluffiest of the pieces (although enjoyably so), as we find out how Hewlett and Loughman reeled in familiar faces. "The Shoot" (10:52) shows the most on-set footage, revealing the joys and troubles of working on such a small project. "The Film and the Fans" (5:03) details how the built-in "Stargate" fanbase helped with the movie's successful reception during its limited time on the festival circuit. Presented in a mix of 1.33:1 full frame and 1.78:1 flat letterbox.
A set of deleted scenes (5:39 total) in rough cut form are quite fun to watch, although it's easy to understand why they didn't make the final edit. Additional scenes of the fake sci-fi series are included and earn some big smiles. Presented in 1.78:1 flat letterbox.
"A Dog's Breakfast" is unquestionably one of the best direct-to-video releases of the year, and one of the year's sharpest comedies released in any format. The quality presentation and solid extras are a welcome bonus. Highly Recommended.