Movie: Every once in a while I'll come across some dark comedy from an independent filmmaker that makes me sit up and wonder what I just saw. I'm quite capable of differentiating between a movie that relies too much on gimmicks and one that uses its quirks in a meaningful way but I'm totally on the fence when it comes to the last release by director Paul Duran, The Dogwalker.
The movie follows a man, Jerry (Will Stewart), who seems to be a magnet for bad luck. Anything he touches turns to dust until one day he runs into an old woman, Alma (Carol Gustafson), and her dog one day while trying to sort out his tragic life. He's dirt poor, his girlfriend has left him, and his prospects for the future are nil. Through a series of coincidences, Alma is hurt and he attempts to get her help, even though he'd really like to just walk away from her, and he ends up in her good graces. He becomes her assistant, walking the dog and taking care of chores for the elderly lady, after which, her attractive (but married) daughter, Helen (Stepfanie Kramer), takes a personal shine to him. After all, he's good looking and charming yet no threat to anyone of substance. As she grows interested in Jerry, her teenage daughter, Susan (Nicki Aycox) does too and this makes for a love quadrangle that could only work in an independent movie made in California.
Okay, the characters, to a one, were not sympathetic or likeable yet for some reason, I wanted Jerry to come out ahead. He was a self-absorbed loser with low scruples and his immediate friends in the movie were streetwise but cold as ice, making him look almost human by comparison. The movie had no plot or direction, it seemed like a character study in futility towards a certain mindset (attacking a very Californian ideal of the aloof male), and perhaps being able to look at the worst humanity has to offer made my personal flaws seem small by comparison. Whatever the case, I couldn't turn away from the movie once the first fifteen minutes had played through. Those first minutes were crucial though since I was close to turning the movie off and writing it off.
The dark humor came into play almost immediately however and I stuck it out to see more. I'm glad I did since the rewards of the movie outweighed the slow spots (more than a few times I was thinking how much better this would've been with half of it on the editing room floor). There were no happy endings and cheerful reunions here; the cast was full of the worst the planet has to offer and the writing hit more than a few chords inside of me. Had the direction been a bit more focused, I'm sure I would've really liked this one although the supporting cast was not full of great actors either.
I'm rating this one as a Rent It for the various aspects director Duran got right, some of which were described above. It's a flawed movie, much like the characters, but it had more twists than you'd expect and rarely did they seem forced to me. It was low budget and looked it but still managed to convey a sense of bizarreness that isn't common these days.
Picture: The picture was presented in non-anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The focus was slightly off at times and there was a bit more grain than usual but the video noise was minimal and I saw no compression artifacts. The colors were seemed accurate as well but the blacks weren't true black.
Sound: The audio was presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround English. There were no subtitles, closed captions, or foreign languages to clutter up the DVD. The vocals were fairly clear and the music tracks not bad for such a low budget release. There wasn't a lot of separation between the channels but the problems were minimal in most respects.
Extras: The best extra was a dozen outtakes that included an optional director audio commentary. While most of them barely rated "cute" a few were pretty interesting. There was also a trailer to the feature and a double-sided DVD cover. I would've really liked a full commentary track on the feature but it was a weird movie that might not have fared well under scrutiny such a track would lend.
Final Thoughts: The feature was interesting in a limited sort of way and had enough to suggest you check it out unless you're fixated on high-end production values. I wonder what Mr. Duran would be able to do if he were given a decent budget and more time to flesh out some of the ideas he worked on here.